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Three ways project managers can improve their writing skills

11/12/2015



Like most people on the planet, project managers write every day. Emails, reports and even tweets are all tapped out on crumb-laden keyboards.
 
It’s perhaps the most practised skills, but also the most neglected. And what people think of as the most appropriate way of writing is often very wrong.
 
In other words, writing is often overly complex and confusing, when it should be clear and simple. And clarity and simplicity are exactly what a project manager needs, particularly when planning a project. Complexity and confusion, not so much.


Where great writing makes a difference to your project

 
One of the first, and perhaps the most important, ways that good writing can play a part in the success of a project is in writing the project vision statement.
 
According to Adil F. Dalal in the book The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence, this statement “provides a high-level purpose, defines a crystal-clear objective, and sets the tone for the execution of the project, [laying] the foundation for the ultimate success of the project.”
 
This will be the ‘guiding light’ that will help keep your project on course, being used to help focus decisions not only during planning, but also while you are delivering a project. So you should really spend some effort getting it right. In fact, you can find out more about the other stages of project planning, where good writing will also play a key role, in the guide Mission Controlled: the 5-Step Guide to Planning Projects.


How to write better

 
You could spend your life perfecting the art of writing well, but there are three ‘quick wins’ that can help you transform the quality of your writing quickly.
 
These are to keep your writing:
  • Simple
  • Positive
  • Active
 
To help you remember all those, there’s a handy acronym – SPA – because you want the act of reading to be as pleasurable as attending one.  
 
Here’s more detail on what these all mean…
 

Be simple

In practice, making your writing simple means never using a big word when a smaller, simpler one will do. And part of this is avoiding jargon, unless there isn’t a good alternative (but there usually is). Even if you think your audience will understand it, some won’t and more complex language depletes your dwindling brain energy. Also, keep your sentences short – ideally no more than 25 words.   
 

Use positive language

Using positive language is about describing something that ‘is’, rather than something that ‘is not’. So don’t write ‘didn’t remember’, write ‘forgot’. Avoid ‘didn’t listen to’, when you can say ‘ignored’, and when someone ‘wasn’t on time’, they were actually ‘late’. You want to be direct, definitive and assertive, rather than wishy-washy and non-committal. 
 

Write in the active voice

Using the passive voice, writing often suffers from sounding woolly. You really need to write in the active voice. An easy way of understanding the difference is that when it’s active, someone or something does something. When it’s passive, something is done by someone or something. You should write “Joe Bloggs kicked off the planning meeting” (active), instead of “the planning meeting was kicked off by Joe Bloggs” (passive).
 
Following these principles for better writing is important for several reasons. For a start, poor writing damages your reputation. Also, good writing can be extremely satisfying. But, perhaps more importantly, good writing can help your projects stay on track.
 
For more information on good communication, arriving at an effective scope statement and creating a project vision statement, get a hold of the guide Mission Controlled: the 5-Step Guide to Planning Projects.

 

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