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Write It Right in Your New Job

A man recently contacted me about wanting to be successful in his new job. He realized his writing was not what it needed to be.

If you have a new job, congratulations! Being successful in a new position requires learning and doing new things and accomplishing old things new ways. To write successfully in your new position, take the practical steps below.

Note: If you have more tips for new writers on the job, please share them. And please share these ideas with your friends in new roles.

1. Learn your supervisor’s preferences and expectations. The sooner you find out what your supervisor needs from your writing, the sooner you will be able to provide it. Learn the answers to these questions:

  • Does your supervisor prefer details? just the facts? the big picture?
  • When does your supervisor expect to be copied on your communications?
  • Does your supervisor need to approve any documents before you send them out? If so, which ones under which circumstances?
  • Does your supervisor want updates from you? If so, how often? in what format?
  • Will you write under your own name or your supervisor’s name? If you write for your supervisor, be sure to copy their style.

Regard your supervisor as a customer. The individual may prefer a style of writing that seems ineffective to you. But when it comes to writing, your supervisor is your customer–and the customer is right. If your boss wants rich details rather than highlights, do your best to provide them.

2. Assess and follow the company’s style. Each organization has its own style of communication. Understanding and following that style makes sense because what succeeded at one company may flop at another. Pay attention to what people do in these areas:

  • Do people use a formal or an informal style–or something in between?
  • Are written pieces conservative or flashy in appearance?
  • Do meetings and presentations focus on slide decks or printed documents?
  • Is communication normally in quick bullet points or detailed paragraphs?
  • Is the primary way of communicating internally by email, instant messages, texts, memos, phone calls, or meetings?
  • Is most communication with customers in writing, in person, or by phone?
  • Are many people copied on messages? Or do few people receive copies?
  • Is a high degree of confidentiality observed? Or do ideas flow freely in people’s writing?
  • Is the approval of many people required before a message goes out? Or are few or no approvals necessary?

3. Find out whether the company has a corporate style guide. Some companies have a style guide available on the intranet. It may cover how to format letters and memos, how to use the company name correctly (for example, Ltd. vs. Limited), and rules about graphics, punctuation, and usage.

4. Purchase a reference manual. Even if your company has a corporate style guide, you will need a more detailed reference manual. Ask coworkers for their recommendations, and choose a manual that suits your job and industry. Good choices are The Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Garner’s Modern English Usage. 

5. Refresh your writing skills.  Take an online self-study class like my Business Writing Tune-Up.

6. Find and use examples. When you take on a new writing task (for instance, a trip report or a procedure), find company examples of the type of document you are writing. Unless they are badly written, examples can save you time and eliminate doubts about content and format.

7. Identify the best writer in your area and learn from him or her. Often one person on a team has a reputation as the most effective communicator. Find that person, ask him or her for examples of good writing, and request feedback or suggestions on your first important pieces.

When you ask for feedback, be specific about what you want. Instead of asking “What do you think?” or “How is it?” ask “Did I describe the benefits clearly?” or “Have I left out anything important?”

8. Learn about and respect propriety. Find out whether you should use titles when you address certain people. For example, in some settings, physicians and professors are addressed Dr.; in others, first names are acceptable. Do not assume that you should address individuals the way your supervisor does; your supervisor may have a longstanding relationship that warrants informality and warmth. Ask for advice.

9. Adjust to the speed of communication. If you are new on the job, you probably have fewer responsibilities and less to do than others. Be realistic about how quickly others can respond to your requests and email. Although you may want a response within an hour, a day or a week may be a reasonable timeframe for others.

10. Maintain high writing standards. Even if people around you write sloppily, keep your standards high. Others will appreciate your good writing, and they may even copy your style!


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Write It Right in Your New Job”

  • #10 is an absolute! Yes.
    I work in IT for the state of Ohio, on a variety of projects. So writing to the audience is also a big factor that new BA’s have to learn coming in, as that varies from project to project.

  • Allison, I love “The Gregg Reference Manual” and have been using it for decades. The reason I did not recommend it is that it has not been updated since its 11th edition in 2011, and McGraw Hill does not intend to update it, with the death of its author-editor Bill Sabin. So I’m offering alternatives to readers.

    I do think a used copy is a good find. Thanks for the suggestion.


  • Another reference book that I’ve found invaluable is the Gregg Reference Manual, which is the standard in California for the public sector. It’s expensive ($90 new), but thorough. You can usually pick up a recent edition at used book stores for about $10.

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