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How to become a better writer – in one install!

The one skill that can determine your success today is…

In today’s world where everyone is working from home (or at least away from the office!), what is the single-most-important skill that determines your success? Take a breath or two. This answer is possibly not what you expected. Becoming a better writer can open more doors to success today than any other skill. 

Sounds hard to believe? 

Let’s revisit the last four months of your working life – are these things you experienced?

1.  You worked closely with someone who you have never met face-face. You judged this person – who you have never physically met – on aspects like commitment and teamwork – based on how they used the written word. “But I used Zoom/ teams a lot”, you say? Video meetings may set the context- but in a WFH world, emails and documents get the work done. 

2. You have new friends on LinkedIn/Twitter/ Medium/ Sub stack. You know nothing about these people – who they are, what they do.  And yet, you are ready to take their advice on essential aspects.  Their persuasively written communication and clarity of thought has won you over. 

3. It is “Appraisal time”, and your manager is asking you the “V” question (what value have you added?). All your colleagues, leaders and teams are busy sharing “thought” pieces on LinkedIn  (with a cc to the boss naturally!).  

4. Colleagues and leaders you respected in the physical world suddenly seem overbearing today. Why? Their continuous checking in for status using email/ text/ communicator is getting on your nerves. These people seemed great before; now, they appear to be micro-managers!

Becoming a better writer is no longer optional

Without us realising it, our writing capabilities have taken centre stage in presenting our personas to the world. Somewhere in the world, someone is forming a view about you solely through what you sent them through email/Linkedin/Twitter – and is actively sharing that opinion with her friends. Becoming a better writer truly determines your success today.

And this poses a problem – especially if you are not a native speaker. Where before you had the opportunity to present ideas, review stuff in person and share thoughts over coffee and PowerPoint decks (packed to the hilt with text!) – today you are more and more at the mercy of your writing skills.

Are we doomed? Is there hope for the writer in me?

There is hope!  I take great pleasure in introducing three tools that will help you transition into a much better writer (and no, none of them requires you to read Shakespeare)

Becomie a better writer – dazzle them all with your words!

If you can speak like this, you don’t need a dictionary. But then – the actor below is a superstar, and we are mere mortals.

So the Merriam-Webster Dictionary comes to our rescue. There’s a lovely feature in the app which displays five new words with their meanings – it takes but 5 minutes a day, but will allow you to dazzle your boss with big words. A word of caution: don’t do this too much – see next point on why. But before we go there, let’s look at an extract from this fantastic app.

Word of the day collage

Pro writing tip – talk to me like I am a child.

We may not channel our inner child many-a-times. However, we appreciate and understand stuff when it’s at the7th grade or below level. Mostly, our mind works best at this level – and we tend to associate genius with someone who we can understand – so now you see why I recommended you not overdo the big word thing!

Thankfully, there’s a feature that measures the complexity of our writing – and it is in the very ubiquitous Microsoft Word. Flesch Readability scores are easy to measure. If your score is 8.3 – it indicates your essay reads at 8th grade (3 months into the grade) level. Ten shows – 10th grade.You are most likely to be understood by everyone when your score is seven or below.

Remember what Steve Jobs said – “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!”. In other words, writing clearly and in simple language is an excellent start to becoming a better writer.

Writing well is akin to buttling well – introducing the “Jeeves” of writing.

Jeeves (for those of you are not acquainted with P.G. Wodehouse books) was a superstar butler. Here’s Bertie (the young master!) describing Jeeves in the book The Inimitable Jeeves:

He put the good old cup of tea softly on the table by my bed, and I took a refreshing sip. Just right, as usual. Not too hot, not too sweet, not too weak, not too strong, not too much milk, and not a drop spilled in the saucer. A most amazing cover, Jeeves. So dashed competent in every respect. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I mean to say, just take one small instance. Every other valet I’ve ever had used to barge into my room in the morning while I was still asleep, causing much misery: but Jeeves seems to know when I’m awake by a sort of telepathy. He always floats in with the cup exactly two minutes after I come to life. Makes a deuce of a lot of a difference to a fellow’s day.

Friends, its time to introduce “Grammarly” – a tool that helps us with all our writing needs – and as versatile in its domain as Jeeves was in his field!https://www.youtube.com/user/TheGrammarly

It is truly versatile:

Need to review the email to your boss to ensure that it sounds optimistic?  Grammarly will do it for you.

Need to review your LinkedIn short post –  before plugging company collateral?  Grammarly has that covered too.

What about a lengthy report in MS Word.? Yeah, yeah Grammarly does that.

Are you looking to pen a full-length blog post on Medium? Yawn – that’s easy!

How about twitter post (so I don’t sound like the angry-old-man that I am)? Yep – Grammarly will come to your rescue here as well.

Anything you want to proofread for grammar – the right words, the right sentiment – Grammarly will do for you. And like Jeeves, it is everywhere – when typing an email on your mobile, it pops up as the keyboard; in LinkedIn, it pops up in the form of a green button that suggests stuff as you write. Ditto for Word. And if you are looking for a detailed, distraction-free environment, you can head to grammerly.com on your browser.  It is an amazingly friction-less experience. In short, it’s your best ticket to better writing.

It can also test your reports for plagiarism and provide a weekly “streak” view. You can learn how much you write, what mistakes you commit most often, how many new words you use etc. Over time, you become a better writer.

It is not perfect – given the checks happen over the cloud, it takes a little while – and it does miss a few. It is, however, more than 95% accurate – and until Jeeves decides to incarnate in a. Software avatar, I’ll go with this. There is a free and a paid version (I jumped to the paid version, and it has served me very, very well so far).

To summarise…

There are some wonderful tools out there that will improve your writing many-fold. Here are my favourite ones:

1. Dazzle the boss with big words from Webster. Use this sparingly though! 

2. Use Word to pull up readability scores for your reports. Remember your boss, team and most everyone understands material written at a 7th-grade level or lower!

3. Grammarly – use this writing assistant everywhere, anytime and for anything!

Try these use cases and watch your writing get better – and better!

Emails – Many of us are not native English speakers. The wrong word or the false sentence can make us sound brusque, rude and curt. Indeed a lousy email can earn us an enemy for life! People do not have the time or inclination to read through the message end-end (especially when they are reading on their phones), so you need the right words and right phrasing. 

LinkedIn – This is fast turning out to be the corporate world’s reception room. It is a place where you can present yourself to the world, get updated on what everyone is thinking, win followers and influence people – and even land your next job. The last thing you want is a spelling mistake or a grammar gotcha – remember prospective clients and “thought” leaders (whoever they are!) are watching! If you want a crash course on getting LinkedIn recommendations, check out this post. 

Social media – we are forever on Twitter, WhatsApp and short LinkedIn posts. Messages get forwarded, and poorly written content can backfire big time. We don’t need to add fuel to the anger and bad memes floating around already! Reports – With global workforces and tightened budgets, stories are making a comeback (plain ppts won’t cut it). It would help if you had concise, clear narratives punctuated by the right infographics and numbers to tell a story. 

Blogs, white papers and Point Of Views – LinkedIn has made one word – “thought leader” ubiquitous. And thought leaders are expected to produce thought-enhancing articles. It is hard to get noticed for value, but extremely easy to get dinged for shoddy stuff.

So there we have it – your success mantra to becoming a better writer. Don’t forget to check out my other posts. I’d love to hear experiences with these tools or any other gems you unearth. Wishing you all success and may your writing shine!

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