The Importance of Being a Good Writer: Federal Employee Essentials Edition
As a Federal employee, much of your internal and external communication comes in the form of writing (emails, memos, reports, executive summaries, and announcements) so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that improving your writing and communications skills is a great way to advance your career within the Federal Government.
With the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, Federal agencies were required to use clear communication that the public can easily understand and use. This means if you work for the Federal Government and you can’t write clearly, concisely, and accessibly, then you’re not set up for success and you aren’t prepared to help your agency meet the current standards that it must follow. Not only is this problematic for you professionally — as a public servant, this means the American people are at risk for not being able to understand various regulations, papers, and other documents produced by your agency.
Here are some ways you can strengthen your writing and advance your career:
- Find/know your agency’s voice. Establishing a distinct voice or knowing the already established voice for your agency will help ensure communications are written right the first time and will baseline your audiences’ expectations.
- Quality over quantity. Let’s say you’re writing a report and it ends up being 25 pages. However, it’s full of redundancies, inaccuracies, the language is convoluted, and no one is sure what the report is about. Meanwhile, your coworker writes a report on the same topic, but does it in 5 pages; it’s clear, concise, and accurate. Your manager won’t care that you took extra time to write 25 pages, and most likely they will reward your coworker for writing a well-done report in an efficient amount of time.
- Ask for feedback. Accept the feedback. Asking for feedback helps you establish credibility and avoid mistakes. Imagine that you sent that 25-page report to a colleague instead of just turning it over to your manager. Your colleague tells you, “This is poorly written. I am unclear on what it is trying to say. Consider making an outline and rewriting your paper.” You probably wouldn’t go ahead and turn it in anyway, right? You would revise it. Feedback is vital. Remember to not take feedback personally, but instead use it as an opportunity to strengthen your overall writing skills.
- Read what you write. Just as important as getting feedback is reading what you write. Whether you have just written an executive summary or a quick email to your supervisor, take a breath before you send it off, slowly read what you have written. A good trick is to read it out loud and make sure it flows well and that you’ve chosen the right words. Your writing is a reflection of you and your agency. Make every effort to make a great impression — Every. Single. Time. You never know who will end up reading what you wrote!
- Read similar things to what you write. Do you write a lot of reports? Executive summaries? The key to getting better at writing anything is to read and study examples of that type of writing. The more you read and study, the more your confidence with the form will increase, and the better you will become at writing these types of documents.
- Take business writing courses. Business writing and communications courses, as part of a broader curriculum of Federal employee leadership and management professional training, are a great way to make sure you can communicate in a clear and effective way. Never underestimate the power of being able to write in a professional environment.
- Know where to find helpful resources. Knowing where to find useful tools can make writing so much easier. As a Federal employee, you can access writing resources for federal agencies by simply going online. And if you’re not a Federal employee, never be afraid to read your company’s style guide or ask an editor for assistance. Use the resources that you have at your disposal!
As a Federal Government employee, you carry the additional responsibility of making decisions that best serve U.S. citizens. Remember that every word you write, no matter the format or the audience; you are making a difference for your country—so ensure you always put your best foot forward!
Melanie Tague is an editor for Management Concepts by day, a freelance writer and editor by night, and is currently pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. She holds an MFA from George Mason University, a BA from the University of Missouri, and her most recently published creative work can be found in Portland Review.