What do you do when your boss says you don’t write well? Go back to your workstation and sulk? Suggest he/she go to a screening of Horrible Bosses? Break down and cry?
Hopefully, you do none of the above. Yet, when your boss faults you with such an imprecise criticism such as “You don’t write well,” a less than positive response is understandable. I even have clients whose bosses follow them with the equally vacuous statement, “And you need to improve your grammar.”
So what do you do when your boss tells you “You don’t write well?” The first thing is to figure out what your boss really means. Here’s what I recommend. Firstly, take a deep breath and compose yourself. Then, ask for specifics. Are my verb tenses incorrect? Do I use the wrong words? Is my poor punctuation the problem? Are my sentences too wordy and long?
Chances are your boss is talking about more than just the mechanics of writing well.
Rather her concern is really about the fundamental principles of writing well. What she really means is, “It’s difficult to understand the ideas and messages you are trying to get across in your written work.”
Of course, if you do have any “grammar challenges,” there are many places you can turn to for help. There are a number of interactive, online resources that offer software to detect grammatical errors. (For example, Grammarly, “the world’s most accurate grammar checker,” Spell Check Plus, or Language Tool, among many other websites.)
However, if the real problem, as I suspect, is your difficulty expressing your ideas clearly and succinctly, you need to think about the way you approach your writing. And the principles are the same whether you’re writing a report, a proposal, a letter or content for your company’s website.
The next time you have to write something of substance for work, consider taking yourself through the following steps. Then see if this fresh approach doesn’t help smooth out the process – and create better results:
- Ask: “Who am I writing for?” You must understand your audience before you try and communicate with them.
- Think: Decide on your ideas, your purpose/goal for this communication, before you start to write.
- Outline: Jot down your ideas in point form; make sure they have a logical flow.
- Write: Now flesh out your ideas. Write them out in full sentences creating paragraphs that follow your outline.
- Edit: most of the best writing comes through rewriting, rewriting, and more rewriting, especially if you’re working on a substantial project. Remember, you may need to do many drafts before the end result appears polished.
- Share: A second set of eyes may help spot flaws in your work. Ask a friend or a trusted colleague for feedback on your polished draft before you submit it.
If you follow the above steps and your boss still says, “You don’t write well,” consider asking for training to help you improve your skills, training that will ultimately make you more valuable to the organization. That’s what we do at the Language Lab; we coach you to write better! Remember, asking for training is certainly better than sulking, crying or, heaven forbid, biting the hand that feeds you.
Has your boss ever told you that you don’t write well and you need to improve your grammar? If so, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help you improve your writing. I’ll also provide you with a free assessment to get you started.