Yesterday, I posted Part One of my three steps to ensure your writing skills stay sharp. For steps one and two, I suggested you read and regularly refresh yourself on punctuation, grammar, usage and style. Today, I’ll give you step three, which may feel like the hardest step of all.
3. Spread the Good News. There’s an old saying that goes something like this: when we teach, we learn. There are numerous studies that show people recall concepts and put them into practice more successfully, when they explain those concepts to others. For the purpose of writing, you’ll get better at it, if you spread the good news or teach what you know with your team and company colleagues.
One way to teach is to prepare a style and usage document for your company, and then provide it to your associates. Not only will the document help you as a teaching tool, it will make your job easier by guiding other people who prepare content for publication inside your company, and helping to head off mistakes before they happen.
The document should articulate that your company follows a style standard-for example, the AP Stylebook. If your organization has not deliberately selected a style guide, you might want to consider the AP Stylebook. If you’re not familiar with it, check out AP Stylebook – Ask the Editor , and you’ll see it provides meticulous answers to style and usage questions.
Once your style guide is stated, use the document to help internal writers make intelligent decisions. This can be in the form of a list of exceptions from the stylebook that your communications department prefers. As a simple example: Some style authorities say percentages should be expressed as numerals followed by the word “percent,” but your organization prefers to use the percent symbol (%). That’s an exception that should be listed.
Your document could include tips to handle:
- Business words and phrases that are common to your company or industry
- Abbreviations and acronyms that are specific to your organization
- An explanation on how to handle professional titles, including capitalization
- Guidance on formatting dates, dollars, locations, bullet points, etc.
- Preferences on commas, semi-colons, dashes and hyphens
- Commonly confused words, like affect/effect and complement/compliment
- Any grammar, punctuation, usage errors that you see routinely when you review, copy edit, or proof content
A robust document will raise the overall professionalism of writing inside your organization. It will serve as a resource that you and your communications colleagues can rely on to ensure consistency across multiple channels. (Think of the time you’ll save, when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every email, intranet page and brochure!) It will help to manage the whimsical editors. (You know, the editor who says, but I saw it like that on the internet.) Importantly, it will bring your junior internal communications team members up the learning curve more quickly. (Leaning on a company style guide, even a beginner will be able to be effective and efficient right away.)
Of course, the style and usage guide only works if you actively share it with others. So don’t passively hide it on your intranet. Spread the good news of your guide, so that you learn by teaching and everyone else benefits, too.
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I’ve shared with you three steps to sharpen your writing skills: Read, Keep It Fresh, and Spread the Good News. You may have others to suggest. Please add your comments and recommendations!