Part 1: Communication foundations
You may think that some people are simply born as better writers than others, but in fact writing is a reflection of experience and effort. If you think about your successes as a writer, you may come up with a couple of favourite books, authors, or teachers that inspired you to express yourself. You may also recall a sense of frustration with your earlier writing experiences. It is normal and natural to experience a sense of frustration at the perceived inability to express oneself. The emphasis here is on your perception of yourself as a writer as one aspect of how you communicate.
Before you can learn to write in a new context, it’s helpful to explore how you got to this point. Every one of us arrives in the workplace (and the classroom) with our own beliefs and assumptions about communication. Sometimes, these beliefs are helpful. Sometimes, however, our beliefs can hold us back. So, before we dive in, let’s take a moment to reflect.
Read the following questions and think them over. It may be helpful for you to write some notes in a journal.
- How did you learn to read and write? Who influenced you?
- What do people in your culture and/or your family believe about reading, writing, and telling stories?
- What are some of your most positive reading and writing memories?
- Describe some moments when you struggled with reading or writing. How did you react?
- Have you ever changed a belief around reading and writing?
- Do you believe that you are a good writer? Why or why not?
- What is the most frustrating part of reading or writing for you?
Now, reflect on your answers. Do you notice any patterns? Can you identify any beliefs that might hold you back? Let’s take a look at how other students answered.
Simran’s earliest memories of reading involve being snuggled up with her grandma, siblings and cousins. She loved being read to. Before she was old enough to go to school, she often sat with her older siblings as they did their homework and pretended to write. Unfortunately, when Simran was in Grade 4, she had a teacher who criticized her writing. She began to believe that she was a bad writer. By the time she reached Grade 12, English was Simran’s worst subject.
Today, Simran likes to read for fun, but hates to read for school. When she gets a writing assignment, she often starts and stops and procrastinates. She writes a sentence then gets caught up in grammar details, deletes it, starts over, then checks social media. In the end, she pulls an all-nighter and hands in her assignment with just minutes to spare. Simran likes to write fan fiction based on her favourite T.V. show, and she doesn’t understand why the words come so easily when she’s writing for fun, but so painfully when she’s writing for school. She isn’t looking forward to taking a business communication course because she thinks completing the assignments will be stressful.
Jian Yi began his education in China. He was an excellent student and enjoyed writing. His teachers often praised his beautiful cursive. When Jian Yi was 12, his family moved to Canada. He was placed for a short time in an EAL class, but quickly was integrated into a Grade 7 classroom. He understood very little and felt embarrassed whenever he was asked to speak in class. Though Jian Yi’s English skills improved dramatically, he never again enjoyed school.
Jian Yi doesn’t enjoy reading or writing. He majored in Accounting because he believed there wouldn’t be much reading and writing, and he’s disappointed that he has to take a communications class. He is taking a full course load and he wants to get through this course as quickly as possible.
Both Simran and Jian Yi are good writers; Simran can write short stories and Jian Yi can write in multiple languages. Neither, however, expects to do well in this course. That’s the power of unhelpful beliefs. They can set us up for failure before we’ve even started. By talking about our reading and writing beliefs and figuring our where they came from, we can challenge unhelpful beliefs and be more successful.
Thinking about our reading and writing beliefs is also a great way to celebrate the communication strengths you already have. For example, if you’ve learned Traditional Stories from elders in your community, you already know a story can be used as a powerful teaching tool when tailored to the right audience at the right time. Your ability to play music or sing will help you write sentences that people will enjoy reading. If you can shift between multiple languages or dialects, you can adapt to a new workplace environment. Our goal is not to erase what’s unique about your writing voice to make it “appropriate” for the workplace, but to build on your existing skills so that you can be successful in whatever workplace you enter.
What do experts say about reading and writing beliefs?
The question of how to become a better writer has been studied extensively for decades. We actually know a lot about how people learn to read and write, and how to help students improve. Here are just a few writing beliefs that researchers, writing teachers and scholars believe to be true (Fink, 2015). How many of these points do you agree with?
- Everyone can become a better writer.
- People learn to write by writing.
- Writing is a process.
- Writing helps us think and figure out what we have to say.
- There is no one way to write well. Different writers have different processes and may even change their process depending on what type of writing they’re doing.
- Editing, revising and rethinking are important to help writers reach their potential.
- Writing and reading are related. Reading will improve your writing. It doesn’t even matter what genre you read. Read what you enjoy.
- Talking about your writing with your peers and your teacher can make you a better writer.
In short, you can become a better writer. In fact, some studies have found that students who believe that they can become good writers improve faster than those who don’t (Baaijen, Galbraith, and de Glopper, 2014).
I believe that you are a good writer. I believe that you can become a better writer. I believe that you use your writing skills every day. It’s hard to change a belief overnight, so perhaps you don’t yet agree with me. That’s okay. Over the course of the semester, we’ll build on what you already know and apply it to the workplace. We’ll figure out a writing process that works for you. And hopefully, by the end of the semester, you’ll have created writing that you’re proud of.
You are your own best ally when it comes to your writing. Keeping a positive frame of mind about your journey as a writer is not a cliché or simple, hollow advice. Your attitude toward writing can and does influence your written products.
Reading is one step many writers point to as an integral step in learning to write effectively. You may like Harry Potter books or be a Twilight fan, but if you want to write effectively in business, you need to read business-related documents. These can include letters, reports, business proposals, and business plans. You may find these where you work or in your school’s writing centre, business department, or library; there are also many websites that provide sample business documents of all kinds. Your reading should also include publications in the industry where you work or plan to work. You can also gain an advantage by reading publications in fields other than your chosen one; often reading outside your niche can enhance your versatility and help you learn how other people express similar concepts. Finally, don’t neglect popular or general media like newspapers and magazines. Reading is one of the most useful lifelong habits you can practice to boost your business communication skills.
In the “real world” when you are under a deadline and production is paramount, you’ll be rushed and may lack the time to do adequate background reading for a particular assignment. For now, take advantage of your business communications course by exploring common business documents you may be called on to write, contribute to, or play a role in drafting in your future career. Some documents have a degree of formula to them, and your familiarity with them will reduce your preparation and production time while increasing your effectiveness.
When given a writing assignment, it is important to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. You may read the directions and try to put them in your own words to make sense of the assignment. Be careful, however, to differentiate between what the directions say and what you think they say. Just as an audience’s expectations should be part of your consideration of how, what, and why to write, the instructions given by your instructor, or in a work situation by your supervisor, establish expectations. Just as you might ask a mentor more about a business writing assignment at work, you need to use the resources available to you to maximize your learning opportunity. Ask the professor to clarify any points you find confusing, or perceive more than one way to interpret, in order to better meet the expectations.
Learning to write effectively involves reading, writing, critical thinking, and self-reflection. At times, it may seem like it’s an incredibly messy process. Other times, it may feel tedious. Ultimately, writing is a process that takes time, effort, and practice. In the long-term, your skillful ability to craft messages will make a significant difference in your career.
Baaijen, V., Galbraith, D., and de Glopper, K. (2014). Effects of writing beliefs and planning on writing performance. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Effects-of-writing-beliefs-and-planning-on-writing-Baaijen-Galbraith/03701e3c57c3bca04881b7f7716f111250d6ce39.
Fink, L. (2015). Beliefs about the teaching of writing. Retrieved from http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2015/05/beliefs-about-the-teaching-of-writing/.
This chapter contains material taken from Chapter 4.2 “How is writing learned” in Business Communication for Success (used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license) and Chapter 1 “Exploring your reading and writing beliefs” and Chapter 2 “The writing process” in Business Writing for Everyone (used under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license).