• Whether typing on a computer or using a pen and paper, writing is an essential tool for communication

  • Dr Anne Wilson gives us some helpful tips on how we can develop our writing abilities

Writing is a craft which you can learn, get better at, and improve throughout your working life. No matter how well or badly you think you communicate in writing, you can improve your clarity and effectiveness by working on these areas:

1. Empathise with your target audience

I mean REALLY put yourself in their shoes. Think hard about what they want and need to know, not just what you want to tell them. Decide what style is most appropriate for what you want them to think or feel - but remember, even formal documents benefit from a sparse and simple style. Consider putting the section which addresses readers’ main concerns (or the benefits to them of what you propose) right at the top of the document - I can guarantee you’ll get a better response. Use your headings to attract interest and show you are addressing the most relevant topics. Consider how your words will be read - on screen or on paper. Use fewer words for the screen and always use a chart or a picture if it does the job better than words.

2. Organise your thoughts

If you often get feedback that your documents are hard to follow, don’t start writing until you have planned exactly what you want to say. Whether it’s an email or a report, a presentation or a pitch, work out the order in which you want to make your points. Mind-mapping software can be a good investment to organise your thoughts, but drawing on a sheet of blank paper can be just as good. If you think you’ve nailed the structure, try changing the order around to see if it works better - and don’t be afraid to write the introduction last.

3. Use shorter sentences, with just one idea per sentence - and avoid the passive form

The first part is self-explanatory. If you try to put too many ideas into one sentence, you get a convoluted mess which is hard to follow. The second point is less obvious, but it’s often the reason why professional writing comes across as cold and impersonal. “The report was approved  ...” “Changes must be made” “The process was discussed” - but who did all these things? Rather than saying that something was done, put the subject first (the person who did it) and the sentence magically comes alive: “HR approved the report”, “We must all make changes ...”, “The Board discussed the report …”

4. Read it aloud

This is not always easy to do, especially in an open plan office, but it can vastly improve the quality of your writing. You’d be surprised how many mistakes you notice, or improvements you can make, simply by reading the document out loud.

5. Keep it simple

So many people - especially when they lack confidence - write convoluted sentences and include long words and acronyms to make their writing seem more authoritative. Yet a simple sentence construction and plain English are so much more effective. Try to have the confidence to decide what you want to say and then say it, without embellishment or window dressing.

Good writing comes with practice. Try to have confidence in your own professional voice. And finally, always ask for feedback from more experienced colleagues and use it to do better next time.

Further reading

The role of creative writing in therapy

Expressive writing tips for young people

How writing a journal complements counselling

Expressive writing for mental wellbeing