Writing is thinking in its best form
In a world like ours where the workforce is increasingly fragmented and jobs are under threat from automation and technological disruption, writing is an example of a communication skill that is intrinsically human, and therefore irreplaceable.
There are myriad advantages to being able to write well in a professional context. Good writing is communicative and clear – thinking in its best form – and the ability to convey and unpack complex ideas and concepts is a much sought-after skill in a range of careers.
This is especially true for careers in both government and private sector workplaces that prioritise clear and concise communication.
Learning to write, and write well
Like any skill, you can make a conscious effort to improve and cultivate your writing skills.
A reasonable first step when exploring options to improve a particular skill is to turn to a master of the craft. Good writing is good writing, regardless of whether you’re writing in a professional context, as a creative passion, or for yourself.
Here we take a look at the words of those who have written for a living, with key writing tips to impart that are useful for writing in both your study and career.
The elements of style
If there was ever a bible for good writing, it would be William Strunk, Jr and E B White’s seminal style manual The Elements of Style. Originally written by Strunk in 1918 and revised by White (author of Charlotte’s Web) in 1959, it is still referenced today.
The book is as slim and concise as the style it advocates for, and the writing advice implicit in its explanations of English grammar and usage is as relevant as it was when first published, as Strunk and White recommend simplicity and concision as essential to communication.
“To achieve style, begin by affecting none.”
Strunk and White double down on this call for simplicity, contending that ‘vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentence, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.’
This simple principle isn’t as obvious as it seems, and it goes without saying that in working in any large organisation that involves email communication and report writing, to be able to write with concision and purpose, and without jargon, is a vital skill.
The art of reading aloud
Acclaimed children’s author Judy Blume recommends a simple strategy that has endured as a truism for writers of all stripes:
“Read your work aloud! This is the best advice I can give. When you read aloud you find out how much can be cut, how much is unnecessary.”
This is useful advice because writing is, in an important sense, the transcription of spoken language. By reading your work aloud, whether it’s an essay or a workplace report, you’ll unlock a different sensory vantage point from which to understand your work.
This is a great way to sense-check your writing for meaning, clarity and the sound of what you’ve written.
Of course it can be challenging to find the space to do this in an open office setting, at least without feeling self-conscious, but even reading under your breath can help you see hear you’ve written in a new way.
Read a lot, write a lot: lessons from the master craftsman
Stephen King is a modern day master of written prose. Whatever you think of King, his success as a storyteller over a long career is unparalleled. For King, the words serve the story rather than the other way round, and he brings a craftsman’s perfectionism and attention-to-detail to everything he writes.
In his quasi-memoir, quasi-writing advice book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2002), King shares a pearl of wisdom that while intended for creative writers, is just as true for writers everywhere:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
It’s a simple piece of advice that can take you a long way. In the context of writing assignments for your study, or writing professionally at work, it’s important to remember it’s never too late to focus on improving your writing. There’s no limit to what you can attain either.
Ultimately quantity begets quality. If you see yourself as a lifelong learner, or writing as a skill critical to your career, it’s worth considering investing more time in reading and writing in your personal life. Not just in a pragmatic sense, but for the joy of it.
If you’ve decided to study a postgraduate degree, why not take up the challenge of improving your writing day by day? Read, write and live your way to a degree and your next career step.