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Writing for Non-Writers

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A slightly panicked coworker told me once, “I’m not a writer!” He was working on an article for our company newsletter and was a little worried, I think. Maybe you’ve been in the same situation, too. If you’re a designer or a project manager in a position where writing isn’t front and center, having to write an article or contribute to a white paper can be scary!

So, first, a little pep-talk: Everyone is a writer! Yes, even you. Think about it. Do you write emails? Letters? A journal? Notes to yourself? Chances are, you write at least one of those things, and you pretty much can’t get away with not writing if you are in the corporate world. So, yes, you are a writer.

If you’re feeling a little nervous about your writing chops, though, let me give you a few tips:

1. Write conversationally. If you wouldn’t use a word when you are speaking to a colleague, you shouldn’t use the word when you are writing, either. That seems pretty simple, but I’ve seen many documents with overblown and incorrectly used vocabulary. It does not make you look smarter to use a big, fancy word, especially if you use it the wrong way.

2. Write what you know. This is a rule even for people who call themselves writers. It’s much easier to write, say, an article on something you know a lot about than something with which you are completely unfamiliar. If you’ve been asked to write about something you don’t know about, do a lot of research before you begin.

3. Outline. I sometimes even outline emails, if they are important and/or complex. (Normally, I would recommend against sending complex ideas through email, but that’s another subject entirely.) Outlining gives you a structure and a goal, and once you have the outline, all you have to do is fill in the prose.

4. Don’t feel locked into prose, either. In the modern age of instant gratification, sometimes a few bullet points will serve as well or better than a paragraph of prose.

5. Get some proofing help. Use the Word spelling and grammar checker. It’s so easy, and yet so helpful. For help from an actual person, think about who sends out nicely done emails, who writes concise reports, who is asked consistently to help with writing projects… and make friends with that person. Chances are, they’ll be flattered if you ask them to proof-read the occassional important document before you send it on up to your boss. I’ve sometimes asked my husband to proof-read an important email or slide presentation. Even if you don’t get any feedback, it will give you confidence that your writing is ready for the big time.

6. Don’t worry! In all liklihood, you are your harshest critic, and sometimes you just have to let it go. Do the best you can, present the most professional document you can, but know that no one is perfect and, therefore, no writing is perfect either.

Do you have any other writing tips for a non-writer? Please share them in the comments!