Business writing is a must-have competency for an HR professional. It might be not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about HR competence. However, it is undeniably important. HR writing skills represent not only them but also the company’s reputation.
As an HR professional, you probably use writing every day – emails, job postings, internal communication, or policies. And ineffective or misleading text reduces the productivity of all parties involved. Here come endless clarifying emails or a potential employee who doesn’t want to apply for a job because the listing was weirdly sentenced.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Writing is a skill set that anyone can master with some dedication and practice. Before listing a step-by-step guide of how to improve those skills, let’s start with why HR needs good writing skills.
The main reason, of course, is that it is a communication channel and clear communication is arguably the main responsibility of the HR department. Yet, there are other important factors to consider:
• Bad written communication is harmful to business. A study shows that poor skills in this area cost companies $3.1 billion per year. Of course, this number includes all employees. Unclear emails or posts can decrease reputation and lead to losing clients as well as vendors.
Non-verbal communication is a huge part of the work process, now over 306 billions of emails are sent every day. And the non-verbal communication becomes even more essential with the growing number of remote workers.
• It is a representation of professionalism. Nothing puts off people more than a bad-written message. Whether it is hard to read, badly worded, or features grammar mistakes - it always looks unprofessional. It is unacceptable to represent the company or yourself in such a way.
• Well-executed texts increase the effectiveness of communication. Emails and policies have to be clear and straight to the point. Otherwise, they may lead to missed opportunities and confusion.
• Writing skills in HR are important for a professional to get higher on a career ladder. If an employee cannot complete job description or internal policy, it is unlikely that he/she will be promoted soon.
Needless to say, the ability to write comprehensive and attractive texts leads to recruiting talent. And writing a great welcome letter for a new employee is as essential.
The main goal of effective communication is to deliver a message most reasonably. It should be persuasive and based on facts. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to achieve that and increase HR writing skills:
1. Start with revision. First of all, you need to figure out the weaknesses of your texts. There is no better HR writing skills test than a revision of the previously created posts and emails. Read them through and pay attention to:
• Clarity of the main message;
• Structure and layout of the text;
• Grammar and style;
• Wording and sentencing;
Keep in mind the reader and rate the readability of the text. Create a list of the weak spots, whether it is structure or grammar – these are skills you need to work on most.
2. Set a message. Any work-related communication has a purpose. When you are working on a document or a letter, you need to start with the main message. What is that you are going to say? In a way, it is the same as a thesis statement of an essay. It should be direct and simple.
Build a structure around it. Also, put it in the beginning as the most important point has to come first. People do not always read documents or letters until the end.
3. Keep the reader in mind. The next step is to adjust the text according to the audience. After all, it is about delivering a message to a particular person or team. It means that you need to write it comprehensive for them. A lot of professionals make a mistake of trying to impress the reader with the complexity of the writing or particular terms. But if the audience cannot understand the message, they are not likely to be very impressed.
4. Logical order. Another essential skill is to have strong and persuasive flow. Business communication is based not on emotion but facts and argumentation. You can create a plan before starting to actually write, it will help to stick to the point. Start with the main message and then develop it with objective and correct information. Good thing is that traditional documents, policies, and letters have established structure. Do not hesitate to use mock-ups to plan out the text.
A great way to keep the logical flow is to address one point or argument in one paragraph. Do not mix them all in one as it might confuse readers.
Statistically, 26% of employees think that email is a major productivity killer. It is simple to easy to understand why. Many email chains get too complicated, there is little opportunity to locate needed data, and everything looks like a mess.
The same principle applies to all work-related texts. Make sure to always have a plan of what and how you are going to write.
5. Fact-check every claim. The thing about the written documents or letters is that they are easy to revise. If you make a factual mistake in your text, it decreases the validity of the whole message. Always make sure to do good research on everything concerning the message.
Sometimes even a mistake in a name or “Ms” vs ”Mrs” can be crucial to the receiver.
Business communication cannot be based on emotions and opinions. Build argumentation on facts, numbers, or statistics. It is always more persuasive and looks more professional.
6. Use simple language. Several buzzwords add no value to the text. You know them because everyone uses them. These are words like “innovative”, “dynamic”, “agile” or “viral”. If they mean nothing in the context – ditch them.
First of all, buzzwords are annoying and often serve to be fillers in the text. And good writing needs no fillers as it should be simple. Secondly, they make a text look just like any other piece in the same niche. It lacks originality.
Another part of simple language is to stick with short words. Keep it simple to make the text more readable. Use active voice instead of passive voice. Active verbs make document or letter more comprehensive and direct. Hemingway app is a splendid online tool that helps to rate the readability of the text – use it to see how well it performs before sending it.
7. Pay attention to layout. Translate the logical flow to the easy to follow structure. It is extremely hard to read a huge piece that isn’t broken down structurally. Use bullet lists and short paragraphs. The paragraphs should be about 3-4 sentences. A list is much easier to follow and read.
Another crucial factor is to use H2 and H3 subheadings to break text to logical parts. In the emails pay attention to the subject – make is short and informative.
You may even create mock-ups in Word to make the process faster. Use the company’s formatting guidelines to set heading, bold, and emphatic text. It saves lots of time and reduces the chances of missing something out.
8. Keep the tone professional and close to conversational if appropriate. Written communication doesn’t have to be complex. Of course, a business report has to be formal.
But when it comes to the letters to the employees or internal policies, the tone can be conversational. It is much friendlier to the reader and helps better understanding. No employee wants to read an internal policy that sounds like a convoluted legal document. Think about it as a part of office etiquette.
9. Keep spelling and grammar on point. Everyone makes mistakes, it is natural. No one is born a great author right away; it is a skill that comes with practice. But it is better to eliminate them. A simple misspelling might be not a big deal, but if it is a proposal to a potential employee or a letter to a vendor, it better to be perfect.
The best way to reduce any imperfections is to edit everything carefully. You might even ask a colleague for a second look, having another professional is always a benefit. In other cases, there are software solutions, like Grammarly, for example. It works pretty well and even a free app helps to avoid grammar and spelling mistakes. Make it a habit to check every piece before posting or sending out.
If you notice that some grammar mistakes occur regularly, it is time to revise the rules. You can also use practical exercises to memorize the correct way.
10. Strive for clarity. There are several ways to do it. First of all, avoid adverbs. Often, they do not add any meaning to the text. They are perfect for fiction and some other types of writing. But they have little to do in the business one. Instead of using additional words, choose meaningful verbs.
The second thing you can do is prefer short words. Some people think that the longer words they use, the smarter they appear. It is not true, it is better to keep it simple. Remember Albert Einstein’s quote “If you cannot explain it to a 6-years-old, you don’t understand it yourself”. It doesn’t mean that you need to write to six-years-old, but rather be precise with words.
Writing is a huge part of HR’s direct responsibilities, as it is one of the main communication channels in the workplace. We write emails, policies, and job descriptions. All of these documents and texts contribute to the company’s productivity. The clearer the message is – the easier it will be implemented.
Mastering writing skills is crucial for an excellent HR professional. It helps to perform better at work and achieve new career goals. Luckily, it is all about practice, attention to detail, and motivation to get better.
Vasy Kafidoff is co-founder and CEO at WritingMetier. His areas of professional interest include education, modern technology, and business and marketing strategies. He strongly believes that the HR department is one of the core parts of every successful company or business. It means that it should be effective and productive to ensure great communication internally and externally and attract new talents.
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