The Most Important Writing Skills (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 17, 2021

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Mastering your writing skills is always important no matter what type of job you have.

Writing proficiency is a critical part of business communication, allowing you to clearly and easily convey your ideas to clients and co-workers.

You may find yourself tasked with writing a business plan, report, or press release. And of course, you’ll always have to write a new resume and cover letter at some point too.

In this article, we’ll discuss the key types of writing skills, why they’re important, and how you can improve on them.

The Top 8 Most Important Professional Writing Skills

  1. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation. No matter the content of your writing, your client, boss, or recruiter will instantly notice any spelling or grammatical mistakes you make.

    Poor spelling sends a negative first impression that weakens your credibility. As a result, you’ll distract from whatever you’re trying to communicate.

    According to multiple publications, over 80% of surveyed employers state that they immediately reject resumes that contain any more than one or two grammatical or spelling mistakes.

    Poor spelling can also severely hurt you even if you are the employer. In a 2011 study, the BBC calculated that poor spelling alone cost UK businesses millions of pounds in online sales each year.

    Improving your spelling and punctuation skills is just a matter of catching your mistakes and correcting them as you go. Always make sure that spell-checker is enabled when you’re creating a document for work.

    If it points out a mistake, fix it and keep it in mind for the future. The longer you build up this habit, the fewer typos you’ll eventually make.

  2. Concise language. Whoever you’re sending an email or report to will likely have many other tasks and information running through their mind.

    Get to the point quickly and clearly describe what you’re asking for, and you’ll increase your chances of receiving a favorable response.

    After you’ve written anything for work, quickly read it over and ask yourself if you can make any thought more concise without losing meaning.

    Over time, you’ll internalize this thought process and apply it as you’re writing.

  3. Writing for your audience. Always keep in mind your audience when writing anything for work.

    This is important not just for maximizing the clarity of your writing, but also for making clients, managers, and stakeholders feel that you understand them and their needs.

    Depending on the audience, consider the appropriate:

    • Tone. The proper tone to use depends on the audience and type of document.

      For example, when writing to consumers, you typically want to communicate with a conversational tone that makes them feel like they’re talking to a real person.

      If you’re writing to business-to-business clients or creating project proposals, on the other hand, then you should adopt a more professional tone.

      The best way to improve at picking and employing the right tone is to do some research before each project. Simply looking up “[type of writing] correct tone” will bring up a wealth of useful guides and tips.

    • Terminology. Consider whether all parties reading any document you’re writing will understand all the contained terminology.

      If you’re an engineer writing a training guide for a piece of software, you’ll want to use more general language if the guide is meant for new hires than if it’s for existing team members.

      If the piece of writing is extremely important, you should double-check with a co-worker of a different specialization to make sure they understand it.

  4. Active voice. Using active voice is a way to strengthen your ideas and make them feel more direct.

    Whenever you use a verb, make sure you’re writing the phrase as an actionable statement.

    Here is an example of the same sentence written in active versus passive voice:

    • Passive voice. If you have any concerns, I can be reached at xxxxxx@gmail.com.

    • Active voice. If you have any concerns, email me at xxxxx@gmail.com.

    Note that although you should generally prioritize active voice to strengthen your message, it isn’t necessarily “better” than passive voice.

    Which one you choose ties into the overall tone of your writing, and it’s sometimes more appropriate to use passive voice.

    For example, if you’re working in a research field it’s often standard procedure to write in a passive voice. Passive voice may also work better if you’re speaking vaguely or generally about a topic.

    Improve on this skill by re-reading your writing and noting wherever you could be using active voice and make the change. Over time, you’ll develop a positive habit of writing in an active voice without needing to think about it.

  5. Relying on facts, not opinions. Unless you’re speaking with long-time team members that you’ve built credibility with, use evidence when trying to influence their decisions, not opinions.

    Great way to do this include referencing:

    • Numbers. Statistics and numbers are highly meaningful and memorable, making them great rhetorical tools for conveying your points to others.

      If you tout a 20% cost savings due to you or your product, that’ll create a much stronger impression than you stating your opinions ever could.

      Especially when it comes to your resume, you should describe your achievements at past jobs using numbers. With a single line, you’re communicating the explicit benefit the employer could secure for the company by hiring you.

      A useful tip is to note down any statistics that you learn. Try to be creative and recognize what figures could be tangentially related to your work or product.

      For example, suppose the price of a certain product has risen by X%.

      This detail may seem insignificant but could be used to strengthen an argument that your product now serves as a more attractive alternative.

    • Testimonials. Human brains are wired to highly-value social proof.

      If you can demonstrate that your boss, colleagues, or previous clients trust you, that’ll make a strong, positive impression on the party you’re currently dealing with.

      You’ll typically combine this method with the others on this list.

      When writing a business proposal to a prospective client, for example, you could cite how previous clients were happy with the X% performance enhancement you provided them.

  6. Outlining. Outlining any piece of writing before you begin provides a few key benefits:

    • Improves the structure and flow of your writing.

    • Helps you compellingly organize thoughts.

    • Cuts down on thinking-time when you’re writing.

    The best way to improve your outlining skills is to develop an iterative approach.

    Start with just a rough skeleton that maps out the order of your overarching thoughts. Next, go through each thought and start outlining the sub-elements.

    The idea is to focus on breadth before depth. If you focus too hard on any given section of your writing, it’ll be harder to rearrange it later on if you realize there’s a better way to structure the document.

  7. Adapting for the platform. The writing techniques you use don’t just vary by audience, but by the platform as well.

    If you’re tasked with writing an email, social media post, or blog post, make sure to research strategies and writing samples for that particular platform before you begin.

  8. Organization and structure. Most people tend to dedicate 80% of their attention to the first 20% of any piece of writing they read.

    This means that for business emails and documents, a disorganized and illogical structure could cause readers to miss important language.

    A few helpful tips for structuring your writing are:

    • Put the important information at the front. Especially for business emails, most people will appreciate it if you get straight to the point.

    • Separate different thoughts. The smaller your walls of text, the more legible it’ll be and the more willing people will be to do more than just skim it.

      After you write an email or document, read over it and identify where cohesive thoughts start and end, then simply separate them with blank lines.

  9. Writing a resume. When writing your resume, there are a few major guidelines to follow that are well-researched and proven to maximize your chances of landing interviews.

    The most important tips to keep in mind are:

    • Keep it brief. Employers spend an average of only seven seconds reading over each candidate’s resume.

      The less fluff you add, the more likely the reader will notice and remember your key skills and achievements. Try to limit your document to a single page for most positions.

    • Choose a logical structure. In general, you should include the following sections in this order:

      1. Name and contact information

      2. Summary or personal statement (optional)

      3. A brief list of key skills (more important for technical jobs)

      4. Job experience

      5. Education history

      6. Volunteer work and related interests (optional)

    • Proofread, then proofread again. Almost everyone makes one or two mistakes with their first draft.

      Proofreading your resume twice costs a total of two minutes.

      Meanwhile, any typo on your document will be way more noticeable and negatively impactful to recruiters than you might think.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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