Education competencies: Written communications

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Is able to write clearly and succinctly in a variety of communication settings and styles; can get messages across that instigate appropriate actions.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Is able to communicate clearly in writing Writes clearly and succinctly in a variety of communication settings and styles Eloquently composes clear, concise, and crisp messages to a variety of audiences Has a contagious and positive work ethic, inspiring others to rise above their own comfort levels and abilities and to break through barriers
Can get messages across Gets messages across that instigate appropriate actions Able to compose inspirational and galvanizing messages Is proficient in a variety of writing styles and uses the appropriate style that suits the message and the audience

Appropriately incorporates wit and humor into his/her writing Regularly produces written communications that positively affect attitudes and beliefs through inspirational and timely messages

Overdoing written communications

  • May invest too much time crafting communications
  • May too often try for perfection when something less would do the job
  • May be overly critical of the written work of others

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • Am I taking ample time to prepare an outline of my message prior to actually writing it?
  • Is my message clear, concise, and relevant? Does it incorporate a thesis statement, smooth transitions between major ideas, and a topic sentence for each paragraph?
  • What methods can I use in my written communications to provide variety and interest?
  • Have I eliminated the use of trite words, such as "very," "great," "exciting," and "interesting," and do I regularly use a thesaurus to add variety to my vocabulary?
  • What courses can I take, or to what professional journals can I subscribe, to enhance my written communication skills?
  • Have I been told that my written communications are inspirational and witty, as well as informative?

To avoid overdoing written communications, ask yourself:

  • Am I too wordy in my written communications, saying the same thing in different ways?
  • Am I using proper grammar and language?
  • Am I failing to consider the audience I target and writing the same way for everyone?

Interview questions

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Prepare an outline before you write: Make a checklist; include your stated objective, five things you want your audience to know, and who the audience is. Outline your main points in logical support of your objective. Plan your writing to include a clear thesis, a topic sentence for each paragraph, and transitions from one paragraph to the next.
  • Write the piece: Follow your outline and state your main message early in the document. Then support your message with three to five paragraphs. Use something in your introduction to grab the attention of the reader (a story, a fact, a quote, a photo). Use a variety of ways to explain your points (logic, examples, stories).
  • Write for different audiences: Adjust your tone, pace, style, and content according to your audience. Consider differences in audiences, such as level of expertise or sophistication, and adapt your piece to them.
  • Eliminate unnecessary detail: Only use detail that is essential to support your argument. Stick to five main facts to show your point.
  • Provide headlines and checkpoints for the reader, just as a newspaper does: Eliminate trite words such as "very," "great," "exciting," etc. Avoid stringing abstract words together. Use a thesaurus to implement good word choices; use a spell checker to correct misspellings and spot non-words. Have someone check your grammar or use reference material to assure proper usage.
  • Pep up your writing: Use words that create word pictures where possible. Use vivid, visual arguments and vary the length of your sentences. Use action words, try a little drama and list your most important point last for emphasis.
  • If your writing is repetitious, combine two sentences into one if they say the same thing, or eliminate the weakest sentence—usually your second or third statement or qualifier will be the best.
  • Write like you speak: Say what you want to write out loud, and then reduce your argument in a logical way to a written format.
  • Watch out for cute/humorous remarks: Often what is funny in person is not funny in writing, or it can be misconstrued. Watch out for jargon that will confuse or bore your reader; your audience can’t see your facial expression. Things written in anger should be put away overnight and then reworked.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Write a press release for your organization.
  • Write a proposal for a new policy, process, procedure, or curriculum.
  • Draft a mission statement, policy proposal, or goal statement and get feedback from others.
  • Work on a team writing a proposal to obtain significant governmental or foundation grants or funding.
  • Design a training course in an area unfamiliar to you.
  • Design a training course in an area of expertise for you.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than the whole person.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a course designed to offer feedback, such as how to develop negotiating skills or influence people.

Recommended readings

  • Bailey, Edward P., Jr.Writing and Speaking at Work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.
  • Baldoni, John.Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2003.
  • Booher, Dianna.E Writing: 21stCentury Tools for Effective Communication.Pocket Books, 2001.
  • Boveé, Courtland L., and John V. Thill.Business Communication Today.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.
  • Cunningham, Helen, and Brenda Greene.The Business Style Handbook, Second Edition: An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job,Chicago: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2012.
  • Ellison, Pat Taylor, and Robert E. Barry.Business English for the 21stCentury.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.
  • Ferrara, Cosmo F. Ed.D.Writing on the Job—Quick Practical Solutions to All Your Business Writing Problems.Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1995.
  • Iacone, Salvatore J.Write to the Point: How to Communicate in Business with Style and Purpose.Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2003.
  • Joseph, Albert.Put It in Writing.New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
  • Picardi, Richard P.Skills of Workplace Communication: A Handbook for T&D Specialists and Their Organizations.Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 2001.
  • Ryan, Kevin.Write Up the Corporate Ladder: Successful Writers Reveal the Techniques That Help You Write with Ease and Get Ahead.New York: AMACOM, 2003.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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