Let me start by first declaring that I am not a Product Manager. I have worked in product design coordination, project management and marketing but never made the leap. I like playing around with words a little too much. What I do for Brainmates though is look at their eMuse content and a bit of the writing in an editing or copywriting capacity. Years of doing this for people in all kinds of industries have taught me a few simple things anyone can look at to improve your writing.
Everyone has a buzz word
Each of us has a word we love over using in our writing. For many Australians, it is “that” or “then” – but it can vary from person to person. You can make your writing tighter by looking for a common word in your work and cutting it by 50%. Seriously, write your document, use the FIND function (In Windows, its CTRL + F) once you have identified your buzz word and see how many you can cut out. You’d be surprised how much it improves your documents flow.
I’ve noticed a new trend- many junior and mid range staffers will try and anything from emails to important documentation in fairly dense, high end language, probably to show off their intelligence and skill. Don’t. The reality is you need to put together something your manager or director can digest, make sense of and penetrate in order for your effort to succeed. Look at it this way, senior members of staff are often very time poor. If your written documentation is dry, arduous and needlessly cryptic, chances are it’ll fall into the too hard basket pretty quickly. That’s why it’s important to Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Respect word limits
Think of word limits as a speed limit- aim to hit the target so you keep traveling well, but don’t go over it lest you want negative attention. If you are too verbose, having a Twitter account can be the best “fitness” training you can get in terms of learning to write what is needed succinctly. If you are too short, pick an item a week and write 250 words on it as a subject every day until you get the hang of stretching your ideas. Something for the bus ride home perhaps?
Spell checker doesn’t always get it right, nor does your eye. In both instances relying on a programme to fix things, or your brain to spot an error isn’t going to work. If you don’t have someone who can proof read your work and give it a little red pen, write what you need to and leave it alone for a day before you come back to edit it. That way you’ll stop reading it with the voice inside your head that wrote the piece telling you what is in front of you as opposed to what actually is written. And use that red pen so you get to the point. An awesome line isn’t so awesome if it’s just needless fluff.
Like most things, the more you write the better you will get. If you want to get good at writing, re-read your old works and edit them again to spot areas of improvement, take opportunities to write outside your comfort zone, read other people’s work, read at night for fun, challenge yourself and learn. Having warm, approachable and interesting writing can make the difference between getting your idea accepted or rejected- so if you are willing to practice it, you are already ahead of the game.
Finally, whatever writing you are doing will need to be presented at some point to someone, right? So make sure you keep them in mind. Your reader is a customer to your writing style, the voice you adopt and the point of the document you are writing- so appealing to them should be your priority. Think about how you would be “going in cold” on that same piece of writing and balance it with your intent. It’s very simple, but it makes the world of difference.
Have you got any of your own sneaky tips and tricks to share?