5 Ways to Improve Your Writing

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5 Ways to Improve Your Writing

This is a guest post by Anna Hicks.

Are your writing skills holding you back? Whether you're sending your first thank you note to a potential internship employer, or your first email to a new intern supervisor, you need to have the type of writing skills that say "I am a professional, and if hired, I know how to write like one."

Unfortunately, too many interns lose credibility through written communication -- misspelled words, overly-lengthy emails, and the use of informal terms like "lol," etc. Email, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of communication have made the written word more important than any other time in workplace history, and the average office worker sends and receives over
100 emails per day.

If you want to move up from intern to employee, you're going to need to learn how to write like the job you want, not like the internship you have. Here are a few pointers.

1. Improve Your Vocabulary. Don't know the difference between affect and effect? Can't keep infer and imply separate? Whether you're struggling with its/it's or you simply want to know what "synergy" means, it's time to brush up on your vocabulary and grammar. Log onto a site like Wordsmart and finally learn the difference between continuous and continual. Then look up a vocabulary guide to your industry, so you can understand terms like gross, net, and depreciation.

2. Copy Your Bosses. Every company has a "writing code," just like they have a dress code. Salutation rules are some of the most common: some companies insist on beginning every email with "Dear So-and-so," and others use a simple "Hi," or no salutation at all. Some companies prefer emails to be written in full sentences, like "I have received the assignment and will begin working immediately," while others are okay with a simple "assignment noted, thx." Watch what your bosses send you and mimic their style. If one boss prefers full sentences and another one favors text-speak, send subject-verb agreements to Grammar Sally and BRBs to Chatroom Cathy.

3. Email Etiquette Part 1: Keep it short.

Regardless of your company's in-house writing style, there's one rule of email sending that must never be violated: keep it short. Remember: people read and send over 100 emails per day. If it takes more than five sentences to get your point across, you're being inefficient.

The best way to keep emails short is to focus on two items only:

• What's the problem? (Business-speakers often call this an "action item.")

• What are you going to do about it?

Sometimes this comes in the form of a question, like "I saw the copier was out of paper. May I request a reorder?" Other times it comes in the form of a statement, like "I read the files you put on my desk. I'll have the summary to you by 3 p.m."

Business emails are not for philosophizing, sending opinions (unless requested), or rambling on and on about possible options. Get down to the problem/solution and get things done.

4. Email Etiquette Part 2: On the sending of non-work emails No, I'm not talking about the personal emails you're going to send on Gmail when you think the boss isn't looking. (Surprisingly, unless your company has an explicit policy against third-party email accounts, they're likely okay with this.)

I mean that email you might be tempted to send to your fellow intern, through your company email account, along the lines of "OMG I can't BELIEVE what we've been asked to do!" Or "Hey LOL check out this YouTube video!"

Remember that every email you send on your company account belongs to your company and can be read by anyone in your company, at any time. The "email forward" button works, after all. Don't email anything you wouldn't want your supervisor to read.

5. Write With Confidence. If you use correct spelling/grammar/vocabulary, match your email style to your company's writing code, keep your emails short, and never email anything you wouldn't want the CEO to read, you're well on the way to writing like a true professional. There's one more step, especially important to the intern: write with confidence.

Leave out the "It feels like" and "I thought we might" and "I wonder if we should consider" and all that other tentative language. (These words only add extra bulk to emails, anyway.) Go directly to the verb: May I order more paper? I'll complete this by COB. Can you clarify one item? If you write with confidence, your employers are more likely to take you seriously and think of you as a professional.