June 3, 2020

Writing Well as a Project Manager

Improve your writing to get people to do stuff

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TLDR: Use Grammarly and the Hemingway App. Be clear, set expectations and be respectful

As a project manager, I spend most of my time communicating in writing. I write many, many emails to consultants, contractors and internal staff. I also write up reports for authorities to sign off on and keep minutes for various meetings.

At work, I write mostly to get people to do stuff.

How to convince people to do stuff:

  • Be clear on what you need them to do
  • Set expectations and deadline if required
  • Be respectful

How to deter people from doing stuff

  • Write a novel like Ulysses
  • Offer zero action items and set unclear expectations
  • Be rude and demanding

I wouldn't say I'm an excellent writer by any means, but do have some tips that will help to write better and get people to do stuff (without sounding like their mum).

Use a Writing App

I use two free apps to write better.

Grammarly

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Grammarly is a popular software application that checks your spelling and grammar. You can get this as a browser extension or an Outlook extension.

I use Grammarly all the time. Although I cannot install the Outlook extension at work, I use the Chrome extension to write draft emails and check them. I then copy proofread text back into Outlook.

Check out Grammarly

Hemingway Editor

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I recently came upon this app on a web development forum. Hemingway Editor is an online app that streamlines your writing style to make sure that it's concise and readable. It checks your writing against the "grade level" required to understand it. Your aim is to lower the "grade level". Their philosophy is that if Ernest Hemingway can write a book for adults with 5th grade literacy, then we should all be able to do the same.

Note, this app doesn't really check for spelling or grammar so for best results, use it in conjunction with Grammarly.

Check out Hemingway Editor

Other helpful tips

Be clear

  • Know what you're writing about and, don't pretend. If you don't understand a subject completely, be clear about what you know and what you don't know.
  • Break up sentences. This helps to make ideas more digestible.
  • Reduce jargon as much as possible (especially in our industry!) There are lots of acronyms in our industry such as RFT, RFI, PCDMA, LOA, and so on. Try to use the full word unless you'll be repeating the acronym several times. For example, I would use RFI in abbreviated form but not Letter of Award / Acceptance.
  • When you have finished writing, read what you have written out loud If it sounds unnatural, then it probably could be improved.
  • Use bullet points

Set Expectations and Deadlines

  • Don't beat around the bush. It's awkward to ask people to do things but just say it (but do so nicely)!
  • Have a list of action points Who, what and by when.
  • Determine whether you need to set deadlines However you don't want to be setting deadlines all the time (unless you want to seem like as a micro manager).

Be respectful

  • Introduce yourself if you haven't met the recipient of an email before This could be as simple as "Hi (insert name), My name is Andrew and I'm a project manager at (insert company). Nice to meet you".
  • Determine whether to "ask" or "command". Whenever I need to get someone to do stuff, I say "could you do x,y,z". When I need to put the pressure on, I say "Please do x,y,z". I put the magic word in (please) so it's all good.
  • Ask for their opinion I usually end with "Let me know what you think" . Or, if I am proposing something, I say "Feel free to amend this" so that they can voice their opinion (if they have one).

Write better so that you can get people to do stuff and be productive!



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