Three years ago, when we were just starting Wufoo, if you had asked me what skill I would’ve liked to have had instantly downloaded into my brain Matrix-style to help us succeed, I probably would have chosen something industry specific like advanced PHP, CSS, or database knowledge. Most of our early challenges were, for the most part, technical and since there was only three of us for those first few years, it would have been nice to have had some god-mode programming skills to help us avoid some of the more time consuming re-writes and workarounds we’ve had to endure.
Now, if you were to give me the same choice today, I probably wouldn’t choose anything specific to technology. I would ask to have inserted into my brain the oft neglected and under appreciated art of
Kung-Fu writing well. This isn’t because technology is any less important to our company—we are a software company after all. It’s because I’ve noticed that when a company reaches a certain level of maturity, the business seems to always require just as much communication, both written and verbally, as it does technical innovation.
We’ve been fortunate to have Kevin on hand, who has a literary and editorial background, to help us craft our blog posts, support emails, newsletters, documentation, and presentations over the last few years. And while it’s nice to have that safety net, I believe that when your long term success depends on communication with employees, audiences, partners, and customers, everybody, especially those in leadership positions, need to be able to communicate with people as well as they do with computers. Roy Jacobsen said it best recently on his blog, Writing, Clear and Simple:
“The words you use, either written or spoken, can have powerful effects on your audience‚—if you use them carefully and skillfully. Whether your goal is to inform, to persuade, to call for action, or to entertain, your words and your stories can be powerful. They can be powerful, because language is software for the mind.”
Since most of my adulthood has been spent coding and communicating with computers, my writing, or software for the mind skills, have unfortunately taken a bit of a backseat. Only so much progress can really be made when you don’t take a dedicated approach to learning a new skill, and the default level of writing that goes into a normal day’s work just doesn’t cut it. So in an effort to beef up my writing skills and grow alongside the business, I’ve decided to give my writing the love and attention it desperately needs. There are a number of resources I’ve found useful over the last couple of months, and if you also are looking to improve your writing and, like me, don’t have access to the Matrix, they might be worth a glance.
Elements of Style — As the introduction states, writing is about saying something concisely, clearly, and worthwhile. This 90 year-old book is still one of the most highly recommended resources by writers, and its tips on the fundamentals of writing are always worth having close by.
Poynter.org — Poynter focuses primarily on the art of journalism, which is extremely valuable if you want to understand how the media wants to craft a story. Their web site contains a boatload of best practices and tips for journalists, including bloggers, of all areas and on all topics.
The New York Times — Grammar and Usage — There are a bunch of articles and resources available here, but I always like to keep an eye on the After Deadline section where you can see the mistakes that some of the pros made and how they were corrected.
The Economist Style Guide — The style guide given to the journalists at one of my favorite reading spots, The Economist.
Guide to Grammar and Style — From A to Z, this site goes through a listing of words and phrases that are commonly used, but oftentimes misunderstood.
Guide to Grammar & Writing — Yes, the site looks a little childish, but if you’ve forgotten what a parenthetical element or predeterminer actually are, this basic grammar guide can help refresh your aging memory.