Our established ways of doing
things. Our modes of behavior that have become fixed through repetition.
We probably couldnít get along
Good habits save us time, help
us organize our lives, and enable us to focus our attention on more
important or pressing matters. Bad habits do pretty much the opposite.
Stephen Covey defines habits
as "the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire."
He explains: "Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do
and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the
motivation, the want to do.
"To make something a habit in
our lives," Covey points out, "we have to have all three."
Knowledge, skill, and desire.
Itís a winning combination, one that gives us power over our lives and
that determines in large measure our productivity and effectiveness.
This same combination applies
to writing. From my observation, people who effectively communicate their
thoughts and ideas have developed seven good habits. They do the
1. Write with
purpose. How can you achieve your goal if you
arenít sure what it is? Clear thinking is the foundation of clear writing.
The problem is that "writing is Natureís way of letting you know just how
unclear your thinking is." To overcome this natural fuzziness, try this
technique for focusing your material: Write your purpose in a short,
simple sentence. For most types of business writing, use this purpose
statement to begin your document.
2. Know the audience.
Effective communicators are people who know their audience. Every decision
they make Ė word choice, tone, amount of detail, document length,
approach, and persuasive strategy Ė is based on their knowledge of their
reader. To write effectively, write with your reader in mind.
3. Attend to detail.
Writing can be immensely rewarding and satisfying, but it will always
entail a certain degree of tedium, of grunt labor and slow, methodical
work. From knowing the rules of grammar and correct usage to understanding
the nuances of your topic, take the time to get the detail right.
4. Compose in stages.
Effective writers donít expect to write perfect
copy in the first draft. They understand the value of capturing the
natural flow of their thoughts in a rough draft, setting their draft
aside, and revising it after some time has passed. Allow yourself the
freedom of an imperfect first draft, and always take the time to revise.
5. Work with an editor.
Even the most skilled writers need an editor. Language is too complex and
communication too multi-leveled for one person to make all the right
decisions every time. Next to reading, the best way to develop your
writing skills over time is to work with a good editor.
6. Write regularly.
Is there anything that invites procrastination more than the act of
writing? Because it demands mental energy and concentration, writing
always seems like a good thing to do tomorrow. Effective writers, however,
tend to be disciplined. They write nearly every day and, if possible, at
the same time every day. Many prefer to write in the morning, that time of
day Henry David Thoreau called "the awakening hour," before they become
preoccupied with the incidentals of their daily routines.
7. Know when not to
write. Effective writers understand the
limitations of written communication. They know which issues are best
communicated in writing and which are best communicated in person. They
appreciate the openness and flexibility of give-and-take discussions, and
they understand the value of person-to-person, face-to-face contact.
As you can imagine, effective
writing is not something learned in a day or a week. Effective writing is
achieved by developing and maintaining good habits over a lifetime.