Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced writer, these tips will help you improve professional writing skills.
I wrote a short ebook for a marketing campaign during my first year as a professional copywriter. I sent the ebook out to the team for review. The editor said the ebook was good, but she asked, “Can you make it sound less dry and formal?”
She was worried the ebook was too hard to understand and most readers would skip it. We rewrote and edited the ebook so it was easier and more engaging to read, and the results generated thousands of leads.
Many new business writers make the mistake of assuming professional writing should be overly formal and use complicated language. Good professional writing is clear, concise, and engaging. It follows a consistent style that speaks appropriately and directly to readers. If you’re unsure how to get started, try these tips.
- Top Tips To Improve Professional Writing Skills
- 1. Spell Check and Grammar Check
- 2. Read Your Work Aloud
- 3. Use a Dedicated Grammar Checker
- 4. Learn How to Proofread
- 5. Check The Readability Score
- 6. Practice Writing for the Web
- 7. Watch for Instances of the Passive Voice
- 8. Focus on Word Choice
- 9. Read A Grammar Book
- 10. Put Your Reader First
- 11. Take a Writing Course
- 12. Read Great Writing
Top Tips To Improve Professional Writing Skills
1. Spell Check and Grammar Check
The easiest way to write something that sounds professional is to take a few extra minutes to spell check and grammar check your work. Don’t rely on the spelling or grammar checker inside your preferred app either. Instead, copy and paste the writing into another app and change the font. Sure, it’s an extra step, but you’ll spot some additional issues.
Also, remember that the rules of various spell checkers and grammar checkers vary by the operating system and sometimes application, so it’s up to you, as an aspiring good writer, to decide what to fix or ignore.
It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’ve set the English language preference of the app in question to the region you’re writing for, e.g., British English, American English, Canadian English, etc. Subtle differences exist between all these variations, but they can radically change the perception of a piece of writing.
2. Read Your Work Aloud
Reading your writing aloud can be a powerful tool for improving your professional writing skills. When narrating, you become more aware of rhythm, pacing, and flow when reading a piece out loud. This process helps identify awkward phrasing, sentence structures, and other problems that may not be as noticeable when reading silently. It helps with self-editing and necessary revisions to improve the clarity and readability of a piece of work.
You could read the opening to a business case, a cover letter, or even a critical email. Consider recording yourself with a dictaphone or voice recorder. That way, you can listen back to your narration and identify even more issues. Listen for words and phrases that are hard to say or fail to convey the intended message.
3. Use a Dedicated Grammar Checker
A basic spelling and grammar checker is useful, but a dedicated grammar checker like Grammarly finds and fixes additional grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and other issues. You can use plugins for these tools that work directly in Outlook, Word, and other professional writing apps.
They should provide context behind possible mistakes with examples. That way, a good writer can fix their work and improve their knowledge of English grammar by doing rather than simply reading. Just remember that it’s up to you, the writer, to decide what to accept or reject depending on your audience, style guide, and the piece’s tone. Read our guide to the best grammar checkers.
Interestingly, Grammarly cites research claiming that its users often improve their verbal commutation skills are using the tool for some time. They subconsciously learn to listen out for verbal ticks and mannerisms that are confusing to readers.
4. Learn How to Proofread
Nothing screams unprofessional writing to co-workers like business emails, a business case, or a presentation packed with typos. Proofreading involves reviewing and checking your writing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style errors.
It also involves looking for inconsistencies or inaccuracies in reports, articles, or other types of professional writing. Software can’t tell if you typed out the name of a company product or terminology incorrectly.
When proofreading a business document, check it for the usual grammar and spelling mistakes. Then recheck for smaller errors like a name misspelled, incorrect figures, or terminology specific to the business or audience. These errors can undermine the credibility of your message.
5. Check The Readability Score
Before pressing send, submit, or publish, take a few minutes to Identify the reading score of a piece of writing. You can score a piece using a grammar checker or online readability tool. Ideally, good business writing is written for an eighth-grade level.
Novice writers hide behind lengthy sentences, complicated words, and the passive voice because they either find self-editing hard or are afraid they will sound unsophisticated. However, professional writers aim to write something as clearly and concisely as possible, using the same words and phrases as their readers.
That said, some exceptions exist. An academic or technical writer could have to use academic terms or technical jargon, which lowers the readability score of a piece of writing. But they can still look for ways to simplify clunky sentences and awkward turns of phrase. Learn how to improve your readability score.
6. Practice Writing for the Web
Writing for the web writing is an excellent way of improving your skills as it encourages clarifying your thoughts on a topic and developing a writing practice. It also promotes publishing work that’s easy to read. It requires communicating your message effectively and concisely-all skills critical to business writing. It’s also unlike writing literary fiction or prose.
Consider writing a blog post on LinkedIn. You’ll have to write a good headline and break a piece up with sub-headings, line breaks, and other formatting techniques. The headline captures the reader’s attention, and those formatting techniques will hold it. These skills translate easily enough to writing a business case summary or an email, i.e., you’ll need a good subject line, lead-in, and scannable summary.
7. Watch for Instances of the Passive Voice
The passive voice describes when the object of a sentence becomes the subject, and the subject is either omitted or turned into an object. In other words, a sentence focuses on the action rather than the person performing it. Read our guide to the passive voice to learn more.
For example, “The company-wide memo was written by the CEO” is an example of the passive voice, while “The CEO wrote a company-wide memo” is written in the active voice.
While nothing is inherently wrong with writing in passive voice, it’s sometimes hard to understand and almost always boring to read. It’s also less engaging than the active voice. Watch for verbs that end in “ed” or the passive voice and rewrite accordingly. A grammar checker can help you spot these written ticks.
Some exceptions exist if the writer deliberately doesn’t want to attribute action to a person. For example, using the passive voice in technical, academic, and legal writing is sometimes more appropriate than attributing an action to an individual, i.e., introducing blame.
8. Focus on Word Choice
The words you choose for business emails and other writings impact on how well readers receive your message. They determine whether your writing is clear, concise, effective or confusing, unclear, or ineffective.
For business writing, pick precise, descriptive, and appropriate words for your audience and purpose. Avoid abbreviating, shortening, or rewriting product names or terms when writing about company terminology unless that’s common practice.
If you’re in doubt, read or ask for the company style guide. Some small businesses may lack one. If that case, check a widely accepted version like the Associated Press style guide.
Bear in mind that the meaning of words, and or how they sound, varies greatly by geography and culture. Here’s one example. In Ireland, the word “craic” means to have a good time. However, in the United States, the word “crack” refers to a class A drug. Both words are pronounced the same but have radically different meanings!
9. Read A Grammar Book
Good writers keep some of the best grammar books near their desks or offices. First up, they’ll expand your vocabulary. You can pick the right words to express your thoughts and ideas effectively. A good grammar book will also help you understand how words are used in context with examples. Avoiding common grammatical mistakes will make your writing more professional and polished.
Additionally, studying grammar rules and sentence structure-many of these books pull examples from various media types-will help you write clear and concise sentences. I particularly like pairing a good grammar book with a tool like Grammarly as it enables me to learn by doing, i.e., I can see how a grammar rule applies to a piece of professional writing I’m working on.
10. Put Your Reader First
Great professional writing doesn’t waste the reader’s time. It speaks directly to them and explains how what they need to know. Consider a cover letter for a job. Many new applicants ramble for a few paragraphs about who they are and what they do. But a great cover letter writer summarises this in a sentence or two and then quickly explains how they help the hiring manager or business achieve its goals. i.e., the letter is about the role, not the candidate.
The same writing principle applies to effective communication in business. Put your customer or reader first rather than rambling about who you are and what you do.
11. Take a Writing Course
A good writing course is an excellent way to improve your professional writing skills. You can learn about elements of writing, such as structure, tone, voice, and style. You can also discuss different types of writing, such as persuasive, descriptive, and narrative writing, and how to apply these styles to different pieces.
A good writing course covers techniques and best practices, such as organising your thoughts, creating an outline, revising your work, and developing a writing process. It’s also helpful to network with other professional writers and receive feedback from peers.
I attended a writing workshop that lasted ten weeks. During each session, we critiqued each other’s pieces and provided feedback. I found this feedback invaluable.
Not every professional has time for an in-person creative writing workshop. You can still take a course on your own time. Malcolm Gladwell even teaches a Masterclass that’s suitable for those writing non-fiction. Read our Malcolm Gladwell Masterclass review.
12. Read Great Writing
By exposing yourself to high-quality writing, you can learn how professional writers use language to create impactful and memorable pieces.
You can learn how to write an effective business proposal, an engaging blog post, or a persuasive press release by reading examples of these types of writing.
Don’t stop there, though. Consider how authors use descriptive language, structure their sentences, and build an argument. Analyze how they use rhythm, pacing, and tone to engage readers. Consider how you can apply these techniques to your work.
Reading good writing can help you develop a critical eye, allowing you to identify what does and doesn’t work in other people’s writing and apply that knowledge to your writing. Start by reading popular business books by the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and also how-to books by popular non-fiction writing teachers like Stein On Writing by Sol Stein and Draft No. 4 by John McPhee.