Practice Makes Perfect: On Writing & Why Talent Is Not Required

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Business graduate students are asked to wear many hats during their programs, and this is intentional. The objective is to mimic some of the realities of the business world in order to prepare them for careers that will inevitably require them to don all kinds of hats (or for the metaphorically uninclined: use many different skills), and maybe even a few at the same time.

The hat/skill we’re addressing today is communication, and more specifically, writing. When it’s clear and concise it facilitates the delivery of your intended message – whether it’s an email or a project plan – so that it’s easily digested by your audience, and not lost in a wilderness of bad grammar or the vocabulary of a spelling bee champ. And by the way, no one in business school or the business world expects you to be John Steinbeck or Huruki Murakami – no one wants you to be. In a fast-moving work environment your writing style should be – needs to be – more haiku than long-form novel.

MBA programs are also beginning to recognize the value of giving students more opportunities to hone their writing abilities, and this is good news for employers who would like to see graduates exhibit better writing skills. “While MBA students’ quantitative skills are prized by employers, their writing and presentation skills have been a perennial complaint. Employers and writing coaches say business school graduates tend to ramble, use pretentious vocabulary or pen too-casual emails,” according to a Wall Street Journal article from last year.

One such example is Wharton’s brand new mandatory writing requirement, instituted just this fall.  The school assigned each first-year student to a personal writing coach. Coaches provide timely feedback on assignments, emails, and all kinds of written communiqués. They are also not strictly business writers – just over half are journalists from around the world. To spice up the elective, the school also introduced a writing challenge to recognize the “best writer and reviewer” (a cash prize is also involved).

But what if you don’t have access to your own personal writing coach? While it helps to have one, it’s not always necessary. There are some very good tips to absorb and apply (and bookmark in your browser for reference), and while practice may not lead to perfection (remember: no one’s perfect, and even acclaimed novelists need editors), your commitment to being a better writer will benefit you no matter your industry or role. Remember when you first learned to write sentences in your early formative years? Time, experience, and probably some critical feedback along the way taught you to get better. Or, you can trust in the words of Huruki Murakami: “I didn’t want to be a writer, but I became one.” And so can you.

Photo courtesy of jjpacres.

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