"Do you make these mistakes in English?"
Fear can act as a persuasive motivator—especially the fear of seeming inept or ignorant. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the headline “Do you make these mistakes in English?” frightened more than 150,000 Americans into buying a correspondence course to improve their language skills. The ad for the course is widely considered one of the greatest pieces of copy writing of all time.
As a writing coach, however, I cringe every time I see a new version of the famous headline. So many blog posts and magazine articles hector us to worry about making “mistakes” in e-mail writing, report writing, grammar, punctuation, and our social media conversations. But promoting anxiety does little to help us overcome our writing challenges. In fact, the more nervous we are about writing “the wrong way,” the more likely we are to procrastinate and to avoid revising and editing our documents.
Rather than asking yourself which writing errors you make, then, try to identify your communication strengths. For many people, the key to improving writing is simply figuring out how to transfer existing communication skills into print.
What do you do well when sharing information and ideas with others? Which of these communication strengths can you draw on as you work to improve your writing?
- I instinctively make my most important point first.
- In an oral presentation or meeting, I’m able to focus on my key points.
- I can identify precise goals I want to achieve with a document, including action items.
- I’m good at building rapport with co-workers.
- In some situations, I can read the needs and interests of my audience.
- I can create effective analogies and examples to explain technical concepts to non-experts.
- I can break a complex process into steps and sub-steps.
- I know how to extract a clear story from a table or graph.
- I can sometimes predict objections my readers will raise.
- In person, I come across as professional but also friendly and approachable.
Confidence is always the best coach. Rather than worrying about breaking the “rules” of writing, break out of a negative mind-set, and you’ll soon find yourself able to write with less pain and more impact.
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