Your ability to communicate can mean the difference between making millions of dollars or making zero.
It’s no exaggeration that a lack of written communication skills can negatively impact your career progression and harm your personal relationships.
Even if you have no plans to make a living as a writer, learning how to write well and communicate effectively matters more than you know.
Keep reading to learn more about common forms of writing we all do and ways to write with clarity—so you can be understood and get what you want.
1. Drop the jargon to communicate effectively
LinkedIn profiles make me cringe. This goes for both employee profiles and company profiles.
Most people use too much jargon in their writing.
I see this most often in the corporate world, but it can apply to writing in different contexts like non-profits, government organizations, homeowners’ associations, and more.
Jargon-heavy writing uses words that complicate the message and make it harder to understand. The messaging on a company profile might look like this:
We create synergistic solutions for increasing revenue in B2B organizations by using a data-driven approach to acquiring prospects through a multi-faceted lead generation funnel, which allows us to coordinate the goals of businesses with their prospects.
This could be re-written to say:
We help B2B companies get more customers by using data to figure out exactly what their customers want.
I’m a writing coach.
When I describe what I do, I just say that I teach people how to get paid to write.
People use jargon to look smart. But it creates the opposite effect. It reminds me of this quote:
When you use jargon, it looks like you’re trying to confuse people into believing you or your organization. Government organizations and politicians do this all the time. Since they often don’t provide real value, they use big words and jargon to make it seem like they have insider knowledge.
The truth is that their services don’t work well.
If you have something valuable to offer, explain it so that someone who isn’t an insider can understand. A fifth grader should be able to understand what you or your company does. My six-year-old daughter knows that daddy makes money writing.
2. Make your words “pop” visually
You might be thinking: Who cares about the way my writing looks?
Trust me, it matters.
Make use of the space people use to read your words. When people read your writing, you want to give them mental breaks, so they don’t get bored.
There are many ways to do this:
- Use bullet points and lists, like I’m doing right now
- Don’t use sentences with more than 25 words
- Avoid run-on sentences
- Don’t use more than three sentences in each paragraph
- Use sub-headings like H1 and H2 to make unique points clear
Have you ever read an email from someone that had a long wall of text full of run-on sentences?
Have you ever read a company memo that wasn’t formatted well, which made it hard to read?
If so, was it enjoyable to read?
When you take advantage of spacing to make your words more readable, you make a more professional impression. People are more likely to read your message all the way through, which helps avoid unnecessary back and forth (e.g., having to clarify an email you wrote). This makes people more likely to read the next thing you write.
3. Get clear on who you’re talking to
Most people fail to persuade others because they don’t know who they’re trying to persuade.
If you want to communicate effectively, you need to know exactly who your message is for.
I was talking to a friend in town the other day who owns a gym. He was struggling to get more clients and complained that his gym wasn’t making enough money.
I visited his website, and I instantly knew why he wasn’t converting as many clients as he could be.
The tagline on his website says:
[gym name redacted] is a place for everyone.
If what you have to offer is for everyone, people won’t have a strong reason to join.
He could do a better job of defining who his gym is for and what they want. It’s a Crossfit gym with group coaching classes. Here are some traits people in his target audience might have.
- They want to work out in groups because they struggle to hold themselves accountable on their own
- They want direct support, feedback, and guidance from a coach instead of guessing which workouts to do
- The membership is expensive, so the gym should target professionals who can afford to pay for it
- They’re looking for a fun and memorable experience instead of just grunting away at the gym alone and bored
- They don’t just want to build muscle or get in shape. They want functional fitness so they can do cool feats like rock climbing, hiking, or playing sport with more athleticism
Maybe I’d re-write the line like this:
Are you tired of boring workouts at gyms where everyone works out alone and no one talks to each other? Is it frustrating to go to the gym without knowing exactly what to do? [name redacted gym] provides direct feedback on your workouts, fun routines, and a gym that feels like home where you get to work out with your friends.
The best copywriters spend 80% of their time studying their audience and only 20% of their time writing.
4. The most important section of any written communication
Whether you’re writing a blog post, a newsletter, a sales page, an ad, a flyer, or a billboard, this sentence can make or break the success of your campaign.
Spend time focusing on the headline of every piece of writing you make.
Here’s what legendary advertising expert David Ogilvy had to say:
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.
If you get the headline wrong, it doesn’t matter what comes after.
A good headline should communicate:
- The benefits of what they’ll read next
- The problems and frustrations or hopes and aspirations of their target audience
- That the message that comes next is for them
- How your solution will help make their life better
- Something unique, interesting, or new. The headline should spark curiosity
Say you’re creating a fitness headline. Which headline do you think would work better?
Gradually decrease your weight by moderate and consistent exercise three times per week to eventually lose 10 pounds in the span of six months.
… or …
How to Shed Fat Fast (Without Having to Starve Yourself and Eat Broccoli Everyday)
Don’t be afraid to write “clickbait.”
Clickbait works. You need to use clickbait to get people to try the real solution. I love this analogy: If you want your child to eat broccoli, put some cheese on it. Writing a headline that’s a bit over the top is like putting cheese on the broccoli for your reader.
If you have something valuable to offer, it’s your duty to get them to find out more.
5. Follow this rule to the letter
Each sentence in your writing has one job—to get the reader to the next sentence.
Follow this piece of advice from the “Elements of Style:”
Omit needless words.
Editing your work is as simple as looking at every sentence and asking “does it need to be there?” If nothing important about your work would change if you removed that sentence, cut it.
Common areas to cut:
- Adverbs—any word that ends in “ly”
- Long anecdotes and stories
- Sentences that say the same thing as the previous sentence
- Sections and entire paragraphs that don’t fit the theme
- A phrase that could be said in fewer words
If ever in question, cut the sentence.
6. Add human emotion to your writing
Humans learn and receive messages best through storytelling.
There’s a right and wrong way to tell a story. The wrong way involves sharing random details of your life or your company. The right way involves writing a story the reader can see themselves in.
Say you’re someone who uses writing to teach others. You can share a story about how you had the same problem they had, fixed it, and transformed yourself in the process. This is a simplified version of the hero’s journey.
You can tell stories about the way you’ve helped people with your business. You can let your customers tell their stories in the form of a testimonial.
The best testimonials come from people who had a problem, were skeptical about using your solution, took a leap of faith anyway, and came out the other end stronger.
Tell stories about the way the thing you have to offer changed false and limiting beliefs—the same beliefs your audience has. Describe your offer as an epiphany that led to a new opportunity you’re sharing with others.
Be vivid in your storytelling. Talk about the way you, or the people you helped, felt in the moment—e.g., “I was down to my last dollar, hopeless, wondering if I’d be able to afford Christmas gifts for my kids. Then, it happened…”
Stories convert people to your cause better than sharing the literal details.
7. Effective written communication must have a clear purpose
If you’re writing someone to schedule a time to talk, tell them the exact purpose of the meeting.
Tell them how long it will take and what you’ll discuss. Tell them why it needs to be handled in a meeting instead of an email. Prepare the agenda beforehand.
This should be the standard for communication in the workplace, but so much time is wasted in pointless meetings and Zoom calls.
Look at Elon Musk’s meeting rules:
1. “Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”
2. “Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”
3. “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Sometimes, the best communication is a lack of communication.
Do you really need to “hop on a call” or are you bad at explaining things in emails?
Do your meetings need to last an entire hour? Or is there one major issue that can be solved in a 15-minute meeting?
When dealing with clients, respect their time and make your requirements as clear as possible. Improving your written communication can eliminate a lot of useless meetings.
8. Tell them what to do next
Be clear in your call to action:
- Click this button to receive a free consultation
- Call us now at [number] to get a free estimate
- Click here to secure your spot now
- Enter your email to receive your free guide
- Text “I want this now” to [insert number] to receive your discount code
- Send me three samples of websites you like
Make it obvious.
Don’t end with a weak call to action like “if you’re curious to learn more you can talk to us and we will answer your questions.”
Be direct and assertive.
A little thoughtfulness, connection, and purpose can go a long way when you’re writing in the workplace and beyond. Remember:
- Trim the fat in your writing
- Say what you mean
- Don’t confuse your readers
- Make it clear why they should listen
- Make your words visually appealing
Do those things, and you’ll increase the number of people who listen.