How to improve written communication skills in the workplace

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Written communication skills can be a challenge. One that is also easily overlooked. This topic first came up to me when I worked with nonprofits. United Way offered the 2-1-1 phone service. People call in with questions, talk to somebody and get answers. Verbally.

It was suggested that perhaps the service should be expanded to text-based communication. That sounds great but the skills to have a verbal conversation are different from having excellent written communication skills. Today, United Way does offer a text-based chat that appears to be handled by certain United Way offices.

Text your ZIP code to 898211, and the proper United Way will respond to your questions.

I’m glad that United Way has added that feature and I would say that consumers as a whole expect to be able to chat with companies and organizations that way. But that means employees communicating that way need to have the right skills.

What are good written communication skills?

Good written communication skills hit the right level:

  • clarity
  • tone
  • understand that all that needs to come through in the written word.

The person we talk to can’t see your body language or hear your voice’s inflection and tone. So all that somehow has to come through via the written word.

Why is some written communication so bad?

Some reasons that come to mind are that the writer doesn’t:

  • understand how it sounds
  • care how it sounds
  • get the proper coaching
  • listen to feedback
  • speak the language natively and/or do not understand the subtleties

Sometimes, whoever is communicating in writing aims to get their thoughts out instead of influencing or communicating well with the recipient.

Think of when people rant online. Is their point really to share something valuable? Or are they just venting?

When talking to customers online, is your goal to win the argument and be right or to try to understand and be helpful?

Sometimes, these less-than-useful goals aren’t even deliberate. Instead, people end up in them because they get caught up in the moment.

Who should care about written communication?

This article was prompted by some customer service chats I had. Chatbot customer support is becoming more and more of a thing. And waiting for a chatbot customer support agent to get back to me is much less annoying than being on hold on the phone with some crappy hold music.

In reality, anyone who communicates with anyone else through the written word should work on their communication skills in that channel.

Steps to improve written communications

Years ago, at times, I would run important emails by somebody else for a second set of eyes. That’s still a good idea, though it is sometimes not feasible.

Also, keep in mind that you might have to think about what somebody’s feedback is saying. For example, somebody once told me that an email was straightforward. Okay. Noted. But what was the point of the email? Was it supposed to be direct and to the point? Or was it supposed to do something else?

Read next: Why your email domain must have a working website behind it

Here are steps to improve your written communication.

Embrace Feedback as Growth

Just like with any skill, excellent written communication takes time and effort to develop. Be open to constructive criticism and feedback from others as an opportunity for growth rather than letting it discourage you. Implement suggestions from colleagues and managers on how you can strengthen your writing. Their insights allow you to see blindspots and make improvements.

Over time, as you continually apply feedback, you’ll notice writing becomes second nature. Don’t see it as reflecting poorly on you but as part of the journey to excel.

Seek Assistance from Others

Enhance your abilities by seeking out help from others. Ask a manager or colleague whose writing you admire to review important communications before sending. Their fresh eyes can catch things you may overlook from staring at a document too long.

Also, proactively request their advice on areas you can improve. People are usually happy to coach. Apply their wisdom to level up quickly. Down the road, when your skills are strong, pay it forward by mentoring new hires.

Make Writing a Consistent Habit

Like playing an instrument, excellent writing takes regular practice. Set aside dedicated time each day to write, even informally.

Consume content from talented writers. The more you immerse yourself, writing’s intricacies become second nature. Leverage inspiration striking at odd hours by carrying a notebook. Capture creative thoughts whenever they emerge. Revisit these sparks later when crafting important communications.

Streamline for Clarity

Effective writing delivers maximum impact and clarity with minimum words. Before drafting, clearly define the purpose so content stays aligned. Boil down concepts to concise bullet points first. Then, convert essential points into crisp sentences in line with the goals.

Maintain a conversational human voice. Avoid overcomplicating ideas with technical jargon when simpler language suffices. Write clearly enough that a broad audience can grasp key messages. Eliminate fluffy phrases diluting meaning. Every word should serve the reader rather than demonstrating clever prose.

Empathize with Your Reader’s Perspective

The best writers not only express their own intent clearly but also adapt content to resonate with readers. Before drafting, consciously envision who your core audience is and what background knowledge or context they possess. Define any industry terms they may find confusing. Provide illuminating examples for complex concepts.

Structure flow anticipates questions arising in their minds and then addresses each. Verify tone matches their preferences – formal for executives or casual for internal teams. When editing, purposefully assume the reader’s mindset. Refine things that feel puzzling or patronizing. The ultimate measure of success is reader comprehension.

Identify a Definite Purpose

Raising writing’s impact begins with defining an explicit purpose upfront. List specific objectives you want readers taking away – changed perspectives on a topic, motivation to take actions, clarity on processes. Consider posing it as a question driving content such as “How can we build greater trust with customers through our support content?”

With goals etched clearly, each section molds messaging toward that north star. Wrap up by circling back to the original intent showing how it was fulfilled. When purpose permeates the document, readers engage more rather than glossing over generic words.

You certainly can make use of the explosion of AI tools as well. Here are three to consider:

AI Tools to Check Tone: Grammarly

One way to do that is to get instant feedback through technology solutions. I use Grammarly to get an instant check on how people may read my content.

For example, this article as I’m writing is currently showing these tones:

  • Confident
  • Disapproving
  • Sad

verbal communications skills check


It’s close to how I’m feeling. I’m confident that I have some tips that are worth sharing. I do indeed disapprove of rude and unempathetic written communication with customers. I’m not sure that I’m sad, though.

Either way, this current check of the tone that I’m using gives me an instant feedback loop of how my content is coming across. Customer service reps can do the same. Don’t want to sound too direct or disapproving, check your text’s tone and update the content before sending it.

As I kept writing and updating, I was able to get the tone to be formal, gloomy, and confident. Gloomy is an improvement, in my opinion.

verbal communications skills check 2

But I could probably still get the content friendlier. So I kept working on my tone, the words I picked, and checking in on the detected tones. Finally, I ended up with friendly, confident, and optimistic tones.

verbal communications skills check 3

There are also specific terminologies that are overly aggressive, to begin with, like:

  • As I’ve previously mentioned several times…
  • As you should be aware of…
  • Per my previous email…
  • I don’t care…

AI Tools to Check Tone: Sapling

Sapling AI offers a tool and a Chrome Extension to check your writing’s tone. Simple use the extension and Chrome or copy and paste your text into their site’s checker.

AI Tone Checking Software

AI Tools to Check Tone: Storylab

Storylab’s tool checks tone and also rewrites it. Though meant for marketing copy, you can certainly try it to step up your communications at work.

storylab rewrite tool


Writing skills in the workplace certainly are skills that can and should be honed over time. With the right mix of a can-do attitude, coaching, and the right tech, it’s all possible.

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