Soft Skills Blog: Professional Writing

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams
image credit: https://dilbert.com/strip/2012-06-06

Sure, professional writing is important. I’ll need to be able to write without making any spelling or grammar mistakes when I get a job after graduation, but that’s what ENGL 101 is for, right? Well, sort of. English 101 is supposed to teach the basics of writing, but the emphasis is on long, dry academic papers. Walking a reader through the evolving morality of Huck in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is great for a student or an English professor, but it’s probably not what your employer wants from you. So, how does professional writing differ from the writing in 101 and the rest of my academic career?

Professional Writing vs. Academic Writing: What’s The Difference Anyhow

Professional writing communicates specific ideas to an audience. Just like in academics, I know, but the audience in professional settings is different enough to merit a change in style. This audience, whether they are other employees, managers, clients, or the public, has a limited amount of time. Your writing will be competing with other tasks and distractions. In academic writing, you’re writing for one audience: your professor. We assume our readers are knowledgeable on the subject when we write for academics. Professional writing, on the other hand, often includes a primary audience and secondary or tertiary audiences. Professional writers need to write for people who might not know anything about the subject. You might find yourself writing about soft skills, professional writing, or some other obscure topic. Competition for the readers time requires this type of writing to be direct, clear, and concise.

It’s a Lot of Work, But It’s Worth It

Making mistakes in our professional writing can make us seem incompetent and uneducated, undermining our authority and potentially keeping us from advancement in our company.

A friend of mine was telling me a story about a coworker. This coworker sent a work email to other colleagues and it left my friend wondering “how the hell did this person graduate?” You’ve probably seen it before, too. Maybe the poor writing was on a flyer for the Rotary Club or the post of an angry, politically crazed tweeter. When you saw something wrong with the writing, the message probably lost some of its power. It becomes much more important in the workplace because someone is paying money for the ideas and products we develop. If you needed to market a new drug that treats COPD, you would need to address the audience you’re selling it to. Marketing diaphragmatic breathing to the public based on the impact on chest wall kinematics and asynchrony might confuse people, and the marketing would stop there. This jargon might be enough to persuade a doctor who has studied the disease, but forgetting your audience can be a huge mistake in professional writing! Professional Writing is essential for everyone trying to graduate into the workforce. Our writing skills can boost us up or drag us down in our careers.

How Professional Writing Helped Me At Work

I worked as a substance abuse technician at a youth treatment center for a couple of years. I would hang out with the kids and encourage them to follow the rules and make good decisions. If they decided to act up or break the rules, my job was to inform the clinical staff and the therapists what happened during my shift. My shift reports would tell the clinical staff about notable patient behavior so they could more accurately gauge the patient’s progress.

Professional writing plays an important role in our lives whether we want it to or not. We use it in academics and in our professional lives, even when it’s not our job. It can even make us look competent or like complete fools. Luckily, improving your professional writing doesn’t need to be a huge challenge.

How To Improve Your Professional Writing Skills

There are lots of books and other resources if you want to improve your professional writing skills.The important thing when learning how to improve your professional writing skills is remembering what professional writing is. It is meant to express an idea to an audience clearly and quickly.

Also, you may know that there are different ways to approach a writing task. You can research and plan your writing; you can outline; you can write early and edit to process ideas; or you can wait till the last minute and slam something out. Regardless of how you write, good professional writing does the following:

  • Identifies the audience
  • Considers what you want to tell the audience
  • Considers what the audience needs to know
  • Communicates the idea clearly
  • Consider the document design carefully

Now you’ve got an idea of what Professional Writing is and what it’s meant to do. Your next step in improving it is to start practicing! Also, look into some other sources about professional writing and see what you can find. If my blog didn’t resonate with you, someone else’s writing information will!