Writing With Authority: Do Your Words Hold You Back?

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:: Your professional, online identity is clothed in written words. Pay attention to its appearance.

Whether you’re blogging, writing a book, or sending out reports to your management team, your written words are an important part of your business persona.

Have you taken a close look at what you’re presenting to the world?

Writing, authority, and your personal brand
Every year, Women In Consulting conducts research into best practices for consulting. (The results of this year’s survey were presented at the June meeting.)

Here’s a data point from the upcoming final report: This year, more leading consultants are writing blog posts and books to develop thought leadership.

Written words extend your online presence, demonstrating expertise and creating connections and friendships.

Words are powerful.

Yet take care: The way that you shape those words can work against you if you intend to demonstrate expertise and authority.

The subject is particularly relevant to women. I’m in Silicon Valley, and if you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that the technology industry isn’t a level playing.

Don’t let your writing style weigh you down.

If you write quickly and with ease, stop and take a moment before you publish or send something. Writing is the result of your inner thought processes. If you write as you think, then your thought patterns are reflected in the writing. If you write in a conversational tone, your speech patterns appear as well.

The words can betray hidden uncertainty or doubt.

Before you send anything out into the world, whether it’s an email to the management team or a blog post on LinkedIn, make sure that it reflects the best possible version of your voice.

Use the following three checks.

1. Weed out the weasel words

After the unfortunate incident of the passenger being violently dragged off a flight, the United CEO tweeted this message: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” In this context, re-accommodate was one big, fat weasel word.

The term weasel word refers to words or phrases used to intentionally add ambiguity to a statement, or to hide the true meaning.

You don’t do that, do you?

Yet you may embed tiny weasels in your prose without noticing – words or phrases that weaken or diminish the text, adding uncertainty. These include: kind of, sort of, somewhat, perhaps, some, just, simply.

Casual, conversational phrases can also appear timid in writing:

I thought that perhaps …
I just wanted to …
It seems to me that …

If you are uncertain of a situation or fact, either do the research or ‘fess up. When addressing an internal team, invite people to collaborate on the unknown factors by labeling them unresolved issues or open questions.

2. Prune the prose
You are about to go to a meeting when your phone rings. You check the caller ID, and it’s someone who always talks for a long time. Do you take the call?

Your reader might be in a similar situation when encountering an email or blog post from you.

If you have a reputation for getting to the point quickly, people are more likely to want to read what you’ve written.

You have to earn the reader’s attention. Don’t squander it.

Take a minute to prune unnecessary words or sentences. In business communication, fewer words pack greater impact.

3. Format for the scanner
Perhaps you have a lot to share. Your readers may not have the luxury of time to read it, from start to finish, on the first pass.

Motivate them to return to the content by showing them the main points at a glance.

Make the content easy to scan.
* Create short paragraphs and sentences.
* Use subheadings – yes, even in emails.
* Break lists into bullet points or numbered lists.

Make a habit of performing these three checks before you publish or send anything out into the world. Think of it as an investment in your personal brand.

For more ideas on writing in the workplace, see my newest book, The Workplace Writer’s Process: A Guide to Getting the Job Done, published today, July 18, 2017.

About Anne Janzer

Anne Janzer is a professional writer who has worked with more than one hundred technology companies. She is author of the books The Writer’s Process and Subscription Marketing.

She enjoys working with writers to improve their processes and help them bring new books into the world. Follow her posts at annejanzer.com.

Comments

  1. anjana.rajan@dell.com' Anjana Rajan says:

    Love the analogy with gardening activities and connection with personal branding. Creating content ina voice that is engaging, while also respects a content consumer’s time requires a clarity of purpose that we as authors sometimes compromise. We do have to consider implications and have accountability for words we write. Thank you for your insights !

  2. Glad you like it, Anjana. I like the way you put it – ‘accountability for words we write.’

  3. nancy@hrprose.com' Nancy Nelson says:

    I especially like the three checks that you can use to make sure anything you write represents your best possible voice. Very helpful. Thanks, Anne!

  4. absolutely…. words play the major role for a professional writer, only open minded persons can think and write beautifully it’s like a combination of all colors which fills at their right place to reflect the perfect light to make a rainbow.

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