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0 Polishing Your Writing Style

One of the most important outputs of your capacity for critical thinking and planning is your written communication such as team emails, project reports and various project updates. This month, we’ve organized a study of the nuances of effective communication through writing.


Write with strength and without defensiveness

Directness without defensiveness is a powerful way to convey intelligence and authenticity. Recently, my children missed a couple days of school for a weekend family trip. My son fell behind in two assignments and, as a result, his math grade sunk. One morning at breakfast he hastily composed a desperate email, begging the teacher for a second chance. Looking over his shoulder, I read:

Dear Mrs. Murray,

I looked on the gradebook and I think that I might have two incomplete assignments because I went on a trip last weekend with my family.

I stopped him. “Too wordy! It’s too much work to understand what you need.” So, he rewrote:

I have two incomplete assignments because I went on a family trip last weekend.

Better, as far as wordiness. But something about his tone was off-putting, almost as if he was saying, my teacher created this problem, because of an obligation that couldn’t be helped. He polished the message further.

I need to complete two missing assignments. I’m sorry I was away with my family on a trip. Can I finish them in class or bring them to you on Wednesday?

His final message was effective for three reasons:

  1. He got to the point.

2. He took responsibility.

3. He offered solutions.

Mrs. Murry wrote back immediately, gave him time to wrap up the work, and restored his A.

Be interesting, vary your sentences

Another path to effective writing is to adding variety to sentence structure. You might, for example, adjust the length of each sentence, alternating between simple and involved phrasing. Which of the following examples is the most engaging, example A or B?         

Example A: Our team meeting is today. The project is starting soon. We need to provide the budget. Our manager wants to see it. The project starts next month.

Example B: Our team is meeting today about our upcoming project. Our manager would like to see the budget beforehand so I’m hoping you can help us gather the numbers for her. She would appreciate it.

The first example drones on like a slow, monotone drum beat without much warmth or intrigue. The second is far more vivid, connecting multiple ideas in a single sentence and drawing conclusions. Here are a few more tricks for adding variety to your writing:

  • Alternate your sentence starters, mixing things up between pronouns (She, They, We…) and adverbs (Surprisingly, Usually, Sometimes….).
  • Choose one sentence- because it’s important not to overuse this technique- to include hyphens and an interrupting statement (see the example in this very sentence?)
  • Consider transitional phrasing to connect what might have been two separate sentences (We plan to meet today, even though we haven’t finished the project yet.)

Provide concrete examples

Providing examples lends credibility to your writing and demonstrates your competence in observation and critical thinking. It is especially important to give your reader adequate context when presenting a problem. Consider the difference between the following narratives:

Example A: The project is meeting expectations on several different metrics. Let’s plan a team huddle to talk about the next steps.

Example B: The project is meeting expectations on the following metrics:
                                    1. We are still on target to meet our completion goal.
                                    2. The budget is on target.
                                    3. We have planned and received approval for the next phase.
            Are you available next Wednesday at 10 for a team huddle?

The first example not only lacks any insight to the project status, but the receiver would also have no idea what to expect or how to plan for the “team huddle.” Conversely, a manager reading the second example would feel looped into the project parameters and could easily roll this information up to their own supervisors or team leads.

Organize the words to be visually appealing

It is difficult for most readers to follow several paragraphs of densely packed text with no visual break. Use bullets, boldface, italics, and tabs to emphasize important points and list like pieces of information. You can see that, even in this newsletter, simple spacing and formatting adjustments make it easier for you to digest the main ideas.


Give it a minute
You might feel like you don’t have the time, but the truth is you can almost always wait a few minutes before sending your email. Ten minutes is a great rule but honestly, you can catch a lot of errors and omissions if you take another glance after three minutes.

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