According to entrepreneurial giant Sir Richard Branson, communication is “the most important skill any leader can possess.” While Branson and others emphasize speaking eloquently, there is another medium of communication that is just as important: the written word. In today’s digital world of email, LinkedIn, and countless publications, the value of learning to write well cannot be overestimated. Here are seven reasons why it is in your best interest to keep sharpening your writing skills:
Refine your thinking
Writing offers a lens by which you can examine your ideas and thought processes in greater resolution. As humans, we tend to unconsciously fill in the gaps of our thoughts with assumptions and biases, which clouds our judgment. Articulating your thoughts will highlight the areas of weak reasoning; if you are struggling to connect two thoughts, then it is a sign that you must consider your argument more thoroughly. This iterative process of articulating, examining, and revising ideas will result in a much stronger conclusion when you have finished writing.
Persuade others more effectively
Key to persuading someone is connecting to their wants, needs, and values. When preparing for an important meeting, such as with investors or potential collaborators, carving out time to write out your key points and anticipate questions enables you to connect with them more effectively.
Spark new ideas
Scientific research is a highly creative endeavor; the ability to connect seemingly disparate concepts is an asset to your research career. One practice to generate ideas is associative thinking, in which one free-associates observations, memories, and imaginations to forge new connections. Writing naturally promotes associative thinking. By making your mental connections tangible, you can more easily find new connections between points. Mind-mapping and lists are both effective schemas for associative thinking.
Expand your reach
Every scientist wants their research to make an impact. However, oftentimes research doesn’t make a splash outside of its field of study. An effective way to maximize the impact is to broaden the audience. By taking time to figure out why another audience, or even the general public, should care about the new study, you can target their fears, pain points, and values and tailor your message toward those qualities. This can be as simple as writing a blog or social media post explaining the study and its potential ramifications in layman’s terms. For instance, after publishing a study on a potential therapeutic treatment, a researcher may release a summary of the research along with how it may benefit those afflicted with the associated disease. Then, the researcher could share the summary on social media with appropriate hashtags so it appears on the feeds of people who would take interest.
Enhance your verbal communication
Just as reading strengthens your vocabulary and command of language, writing strengthens your ability to translate thoughts into words. As such, writing lends itself to improving verbal communication. If you are angling for a leadership role that will require more public speaking, you should read and write more to enhance your verbal communication skills. If nothing else, taking the time to write out your thoughts will make you feel more confident before a meeting or presentation.
Tell your story
As social psychologist James Pennebaker, PhD, observed in the 1980s, writing about past experiences has positive effects on physical and mental health. Along with these benefits, writing about your past may also help you appreciate your background and how your life experiences coalesce into a unique, valuable perspective. Oftentimes, the most insightful things you will have to offer will not be a result of your formal education, but your experiences.
Furthermore, telling your story opens the door to foster connections with others who come from similar circumstances. The camaraderie and mutual understanding that can arise from shared backgrounds is invaluable to productive collaboration.
Map your future
It is vital to have a vision for your life and work. A vision provides the value hierarchy needed to prioritize your goals and how you should pursue them. Having a goal to strive toward and an actionable plan to achieve it will act as a source of sustaining meaning for you, compelling you to overcome challenges and reassess your approach when necessary. Without that sustaining meaning, you are more liable to drift aimlessly and become dissatisfied. As it says in the book of Proverbs, “Without a vision, the people perish.”
A key step in formulating a vision is writing it out. As mentioned above, writing allows you to see the gaps and flaws in your thinking. Writing your vision out, then, is vital in ensuring that it is coherent and achievable.
Learning to write has a litany of benefits for both your personal and professional development. Whether you are a seasoned leader or a newly minted lab manager, there will always be ways to sharpen your writing skills and reap the benefits.