Did you—like me—have a high school teacher who stressed the importance of learning to write well?
- Remember and describe what they see, hear, think, and feel
- Gather information and analyze data
- Improve their thinking
- Share their thoughts and feelings
And this is nothing new.
Writing Has Been Important for a Long Time
The people of Mesopotamia developed writing about 6,000 years ago. They used writing to record inventories of goods, such as grain, sheep, cattle, and silver. Soon, they used writing to describe events, conversations, speeches, and dreams. With this, they could make records for themselves and they could share information with others, even those at a great distance and those who were not yet alive. Soon, people also began to use written language to persuade others.
In ancient times, those who could write became valuable to those in business and government. The rich and the powerful realized that writing helped improve thinking, and it extended their influence and power. This gave rise to the social classes of scribes, government administrators, and scholars. Their records still inform us of ancient and medieval times. The gaps in our knowledge of former cultures are due to lost or destroyed records.
It is clear—for a long time, people have benefited from effective writing.
Literacy Benefits People in Many Ways
Literacy improves decision making, personal empowerment, self-worth, freedom, health, and wealth generation.
When you can read, you can learn more. You can learn from those living in far distant places and those who lived in earlier times. When you can write, you can collect ideas from more than those available immediately around you; and as you collect these more diverse ideas, new concepts come into your own mind. In this way reading and writing helps you understand better what is, what was, and what might be; and with this understanding, you can make better decisions.
The knowledge gained by reading and writing can empower you to take greater responsibility for your thoughts and actions. As you do, your self-worth will increase. Personal satisfaction strongly correlates with the power to make decisions.
Finally, knowing more and understanding more enables you to improve your health and the health of those around you, to work more productively, and to create and preserve wealth.
In addition to benefitting individuals, composition skills benefit groups of people. The more skilled a group becomes at writing, the greater their collective success, since they can communicate more effectively. Literacy among ethnic and national groups results in greater prosperity. Again, this happens because the ability to read and to write leads to better ideas, increased power, and greater wealth generation and accumulation. In this way literacy supports economic and cultural progress.
Successful People Value Good Writing
All modern professionals benefit from good writing. This includes educators, engineers, scientists, technicians, medical professionals, marketing and sales professionals, business executives, business owners, lawyers, politicians, administrators, and military and law enforcement professionals. In fact, many people say good writing is critically important to their work. Here are examples:
4th Grade Teacher, Engineer, Physiologist, Professional Services Provider, Mechanic and Small Business Owner, Government Administrator, and Business Instructor Say Writing Is Important
- “I’m always using writing in my work,” says James Stanford, technology manager
- “The best way to [communicate thoroughly] is all by writing, says David Mack Jackson, business instructor
Executives Responsible for Marketing, Community Affairs, Banking, and Real Estate Say Writing Is Important
Christopher O’Connor, CEO, says, “Most people can communicate verbally, but being able to communicate with top writing skills is a tough talent to find.”
Law Professor Says Writing Is Important
Law professor Ian Gallacher underscores the importance of writing to the legal profession. He says, “Writing is something that lawyers do every day all day,” and it does not matter in what capacity they work.
Business Consultant Says Writing Is Important
Business consultant Suzanne Bates states that leaders need to take the time to communicate by writing. She says, “The best leaders know how to express themselves in writing, and that’s because you simply cannot be everywhere.”
Military Officer Says Writing Is Important
Kate Sweeney, a 13-year Army officer, highlights the importance of effective writing. She says, “To be an amazing officer and also to be an amazing writer—the two—are part and parcel of being [a] great leader in the military and beyond.”
Director of University Writing Program Says Writing Is Important
Larry McEnerney, Director of the University of Chicago’s Writing Program, emphasizes the importance of writing well to academic success. McEnerney illuminates the dramatic difference between writing to think and writing to communicate. He cautions that writing can be “brutally hard,” but assures us that the rewards are ample.
Another Business Consultant Says Writing Is Important
Al Borowksi, business consultant, stresses the importance of effective business writing. He says, “People make important business decisions based on what you write. If you can save them time, if you can get results for them, that makes you valuable.” Borowski further states, “Your personal image and your corporate image are at stake every time you send a document.”
As you can see, many people highly value good writing.
Successful Organizations Value Good Writing
A firm that harnesses the power of clear writing is Amazon. Company executives write, rewrite, read, and discuss memos to understand their business, to facilitate business meetings, and to drive decision making. Jeff Bezos said, “Many, many years ago, we outlawed PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. And it’s probably the smartest thing we ever did.” (See: “Jeff Bezos: This is ‘smartest thing we ever did’ at Amazon.” ) The company believes well-written memos—those that are written and rewritten—force people to “clarify their own thinking.” Bezos expands on this in the following interview. Start listening at time stamp 18:00 and stop at 20:05.
Another firm remarkably successful at using writing to advance their mission is the management consulting firm the Arbinger Institute. In their landmark book Leadership and Self-Deception—with more than 2 million copies sold as of 2019 and sales still accelerating—the company uses an engaging story (essentially a novel) to communicate challenging psychological concepts. Doing so, Arbinger facilitates major behavioral transformations in individuals and in organizations.
Writing Helps You Think
Writing can help you think more clearly.
Larry McEnerney emphasizes that people “on the frontiers of knowledge … use the writing process to help [themselves] think.”
Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor, confirms this. He says, “The best thing you can do is teach people to write, because there is no difference between that and thinking.” His remarks are here:
Peterson’s writing guide is here.
“Action based on thinking is likely to be far less painful and more productive than action based upon ignorance. So, if you want to have a life characterized by competence, productivity, security, originality and engagement rather than one that is nasty, brutish and short, you need to think carefully about important issues. There is no better way to do so than to write. This is because writing extends your memory, facilitates editing and clarifies your thinking.
“You can write down more than you can easily remember, so that your capacity to consider a number of ideas at the same time is broadened. Furthermore, once those ideas are written down, you can move them around and change them, word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph. You can also reject ideas that appear substandard, after you consider them more carefully. If you reject substandard ideas, then all that you will have left will be good ideas. You can keep those, and use them…
“If you learn to write and to edit, you will also be able to tell the difference between good ideas, intelligently presented, and bad ideas put forth by murky and unskilled thinkers. That means that you will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff … Then you can be properly influenced by profound and solid ideas instead of falling prey to foolish fads and whims and ideologies, which can range in their danger from trivial to mortal.
“Those who can think and communicate are simply more powerful than those who cannot, and powerful in the good way, the way that means ‘able to do a wide range of things competently and efficiently.’ Furthermore, the further up the ladder of competence you climb, with your well-formulated thoughts, the more important thinking and communicating become. At the very top of the most complex hierarchies (law, medicine, academia, business, theology, politics) nothing is more necessary and valuable. If you can think and communicate, you can also defend yourself, and your friends and family, when that becomes necessary, and it will become necessary at various points in your life.
“Finally, it is useful to note that your mind is organized verbally, at the highest and most abstract levels. Thus, if you learn to think, through writing, then you will develop a well-organized, efficient mind – and one that is well-founded and certain. This also means that you will be healthier, mentally and physically, as lack of clarity and ignorance means unnecessary stress. Unnecessary stress makes your body react more to what could otherwise be treated as trivial affairs. This makes for excess energy expenditure, and more rapid aging (along with all the negative health-related consequences of aging).”
So, your teacher was right. Work on your writing. You will find it effort well spent.
If you need help, get my book 7 Steps to Better Writing.
Photo of cuniform, “cuniform” (title), photographer gabriel.harp, posted 28 Jun 2008, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gharp/2618359065, accessed 21 Dec 2019, used under license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.