You’ve got the job and you’re about to start working. Your first piece of professional writing, your CV, has impressed the employer and your interview went well. Now you need to continue writing in a professional way to keep that good impression up. But there are so many different ways to write. How do you know what the best ways are?
Most often you’ll probably need to write emails. This is the quickest way of communicating professionally with someone other than phoning them.
Here are some hot email tips:
• Send your email to the specific email address of the person you want to contact. If you don’t know it, it is possible to phone the organisation to find it out.
• Cc means ‘Carbon copy’ which was the old way of making a copy of your document! Things are so much easier now. Now if you want to send a copy of this same email to someone else (perhaps your manager) all you do is enter their email address in this ‘Cc’ line.
• You can put as many addresses as you want to in both the sender and Cc line. If you want to send a secret copy to someone else that the others can’t see, then you can use ‘Bcc’ or ‘Blind carbon copy’!
• The subject line is very important because you want the person receiving it to know exactly what you are writing about. Keep subject lines relevant and to the point. Some examples are, ‘Queries regarding finance meeting agenda’ or ‘Meeting request for Monday 20 August’.
• Start the body of your email with an appropriate greeting, such as, ‘Dear Themba’ or, if you know the person, ‘Hi Bandile’. If your workplace is more formal or if it seems more suitable for the context then you may need to address someone by their title, eg Mr September.
• Frequently people receive large numbers of emails in a day, so keep your email body as short and as to the point as possible.
• End your email with ‘Regards’ or something such as ‘Kind regards’.
• Follow this with your ‘signature’, which includes your name, your job title, your department, your work address and your telephone number. You don’t need to redo this part for every email! Most emails allow you to create a signature which you can add to the bottom of all your emails automatically. This saves you time too! Some workplaces will create a signature for you. Find out from our employer/manager whether the office does have a standard signature for use.
You may also need to write letters, minutes, reports etc. and these all have different ways they are laid out. The best way to find out the different formats or layouts for these forms of writing is to either ask others at your office to show you an example or you can look this up on the internet.
Here are some general writing tips to getting it right
• You need to know your audience. Yes, it’s the same as speaking! Are you writing to your manager? Are you writing to external stakeholders? Before you write, think about who will be reading your document. This will help you decide how formal you need to be. You can always ask for advice from your manager, for example, if you are writing to someone outside of the organisation.
• Organise the information you want to deliver carefully. It can be organised in paragraphs, bullet points or any other way that is suitable for that document. It may be that once you have finished your email you realise that the most important request is at the end – take time to edit it so it is as clear as possible for your reader.
• Because people in the business world are busy, it’s important to be clear but brief in what you want to get across to them. They simply don’t have time to read a long document. Don’t try and use long words either and get to the point as quickly as you can. Never use words that you think sound good but you don’t really understand yourself.
• Good spelling, punctuation and grammar are important. Luckily, there is a spell and grammar check on your computer so many of the words/phrases will be underlined if they are wrong. Be aware though that some underlined words may not be wrongly spelled, as many computers use American spelling, and in SA we usually use British spelling (eg we use colour not color!) It’s still a good idea to read your writing over before you send it because a computer can make mistakes or miss errors.
• If you are told to write in a formal style, it simply means that you shouldn’t use slang words and it could mean, depending on what you’re writing, that you don’t contract words (e.g. ‘don’t’ would be ‘do not’), and that you address people by their titles (Professor/Mr/Ms etc) rather than their first names.
In some workplaces, you may need to use use social media or messaging platform such as WhatsApp or Google Hangouts to communicate either with people in our office/on your team or with external parties. This will be determined by the situation that you are in.
WhatsApp’s are quick and easy to use. Possibly you already use them to chat to your friends. They may or may not be used in your organisation. If they are, you should still be professional in the way you write them. Always remember who you are writing to and write in a way that is suitable for them. Generally WhatsApp language uses a variety of common abbreviations, but it’s better to write words out in full in a work situation.
Also remember that an email or Whatsapp can feel private, but can very easily be forwarded to anybody, so make sure your work communication is always professional.
Following these guidelines should help you to write confidently at work. You can also always ask for help or research different ways of writing on the internet if you’re unsure of any type of writing that you’re asked to do. Once you’re able to write in a professional way, you will leave a lasting good impression on all the people you write to!