The ONLY Tip You Need to Improve Your Writing

By Stephanie Clark.

There is power in the written word. Writing that is fluid and makes sense has the power to engage the reader and inspire trust in the writer.

Of course, the opposite is equally true: write poorly in a mishmash of meanings and run on thoughts that confuse and confound the reader and jumble of ideas and you’ve lost your credibility and sent your reader shaking her head and reaching for the remote!

With the above example, you get my drift.

And yet. I have seen résumés, composed by professional résumé writers, that are not well written. I am not referring to commas run amok or semi-colons propping up partial sentences – no, let’s leave points of grammar out for now. I’m referring to the writing itself not making perfect sense. Writing that tries overly hard to impress or writing that simply ignores good practices; poor writing that forces the reader to reread sentences rather than comprehend effortlessly.

Although the topic of writing well has had tomes written about it (The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is a good place to start), this single point will go a long way in improving your writing.

Before I get to the one thing you must do without question and with great gusto, allow me to empower your writing.

Write Without a Filter

The first draft has every right to be messy, convoluted, too long. We each have a different writing methodology. I, for example, wander back and forth in my document, changing a word here, reconsidering the location of information, even changing format and style mid-point, if it feels right. Getting information out of your head and onto a page is exactly what the initial draft is all about. No filters. No right or wrong at this point. Brain dump is the idea.

And now to the single most effective tip of all: edit mercilessly.

Edit. Edit again. And ideally, edit a third time

Blaise Pascal said, “I apologize for the length of my letter. I did not have time to make it shorter.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Monsieur Pascal: editing takes time and not doing so deserves an apology. Edit to get to the point quickly and clearly. How? Here are editing tips geared to résumé writing.

  1. Search out redundant words and phrases and hit “delete”! Typically abused redundant words and phrases include all, added bonus, new initiative, end result, final outcome, varying ranges. Less is more, which is useful to remember because résumé “real estate” is limited! For example, the word “all” adds nothing to comprehension. “Oversaw all departments” is weak compared to “Oversaw 7 departments.” “Managed all call centre functions” means nothing other than “Managed call centre functions.”
  2. Keep your eyes peeled for nominalization, which occurs when a verb is recast as a noun. Editing nominalization out of your writing saves space and injects energy. In this example, the first phrase is concise and decisive: “adjusted the account” vs “made an adjustment to the account.” Here’s another: “consider the data” vs “take the data into consideration.” And another: “decide” vs “make a decision.”
  3. Read your writing aloud. You’ve heard this before, but it’s obvious to me that not enough writers take this step. Stumbling while reading aloud will show you precisely where there is an issue in the flow. Stopping mid-sentence in a “what?” sort of response shows that somewhere in the sentence clarity went missing. (I’m not convinced that using a “text-to-voice” tool will achieve this in quite the same manner, but it might work for others.)
  4. KISS reigns. Keep it simple, well, you know! Here’s a sentence that I had to read three times before I truly understood – at least, maybe I now understand – what this job seeker was trying to communicate. (This is taken from a current client’s résumé.)

“Excellent ability to conceptualize complex internal co-related challenges across divisions without formal authority.”

Were the divisions lacking authority or is he saying he does not require someone to manage his work? And what of the message that precedes the final ambiguous phrase? Why is it noteworthy that he simply conceptualizes challenges? Perhaps he really means that he conceptualizes the root causes or effective solutions?

Gaw! I give up on that one.

Business writing is crisp. Business readers – like recruiters – value their time. Anything less than clarity and brevity risks a résumé being passed over.

In case you would like to polish up those writing skills, the University of British Columbia offers an online “Introduction to Business Writing” course. Fleming College has a “Writing for Professionals” certificate program, also delivered online. If a classroom setting is more your style, the Canadian Management Centre delivers a 2-day course on “Effective Business Writing.”

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