Professional Writing Training for Your Employees

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All too often, professionals in the tech industry may have given short shrift to the humanities while attending college. In this rapid-paced era, no one wants to waste time on courses that don’t appear to have direct impact on one’s career of choice. But narrowing our vision this way can create some challenges that we may never have thought of, from our ability to practice critical thinking, to developing skills that might serve us in surprising ways as we build our careers. One of those skills that your team members may have passed over is professional writing.

Your Team Is Skilled at Tech Work, But What About Their Writing?

Maybe you let the worst writers on your tech team slide by, expending your valuable time editing their work yourself, or actually just letting some sloppy writing pass. The employees in question may know nouns and verbs, adverbs and adjectives, and maybe most of the rules for passable grammar. Unfortunately, their efforts are often less than polished and sometimes even garbled. Technical workers may not understand how to write concisely and with simple clarity. What they may think of as passable prose is actually flawed, sub-standard, and full of errors. Their colleagues and collaborators may have observed their shortcomings as a writer, which can count against them in subtle and sometimes overt ways, such as keeping them from attaining promotions or a new job. It could even prevent your company from landing an important client.

Another challenge for less-than-polished writers is they are often unaware of how writing styles should change, depending on the project. For instance, a technical manual that’s jammed with jargon will not be written in the same way as a communication with the board of directors, or a white paper about your company’s latest innovations. Your team may be charged with producing business-oriented documents such as reports for strategic planning, white papers, and the like but at the same time will have to shift gears and produce more technical material such as source code, as well as documentation for data and software. Users should be able to clearly understand comments in the code, as well as instructions on how to run it.

Good writing promotes good communications and enhances collaboration. If your collaborators, colleagues, and stakeholders have to pause and puzzle out what the authors of your technical documents are trying to say, their time is being wasted. What’s more, your company’s image is being undermined if potential customers believe your team lacks high standards of professionalism. Poor writing could even cost you business.

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Another issue: How quickly can your team members produce effective, clear communications? If they have to labor for many hours over their writing, checking spelling and grammar frequently, or just agonizing over whether something will make sense to their readership, they probably need some help developing their skills so they can meet deadlines in a reasonable amount of time.

Improving Writing Skills

So how can you help your tech workers develop the skills they’re lacking? Fortunately, it’s never too late to become a better writer.

You can suggest your team members study books on grammar, spelling, and writing in general. It also helps to read examples of good technical writing by polished writers. This will help the individual be more aware of how their writing stacks up against that of professionals. They might also ask someone they know who has excellent writing skills to read their work and provide a critique on ways to improve. You might also sponsor memberships for your team in professional technical writing organizations, provide access to professional writing journals, or even hire a consultant to edit writing projects and coach tech team members until they reach a level of professionalism you are satisfied with.

One of the best ways to improve writing skills is through a college course. But your tech team may not have time to travel to and from the local community college and take a semester-long writing course. Fortunately, they may benefit from a shorter-term course or seminar led by an instructor with professional writing experience. Ideally, the course will take place from one to three days. Typically, the student would study the following:

  • various parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.)
  • rules for grammar
  • common grammatical errors
  • avoiding sentence fragments, run-ons, and comma splices
  • punctuation
  • writing for greater clarity
  • best word choices
  • sentence, paragraph, and document structure
  • self-editing hints
  • style sheets
  • table formatting
  • attribution
  • hallmarks of good technical writing

Would you like to learn more about how to develop your tech team’s professional writing skills?

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