November 20, 2014

Why Writing Well Is Key

By: Matt Mitchell


Everyone writes. Most of us do it poorly. Lamentable though it may be, the fact is, writing is not just for the blogger, the op-ed author, and the novelist. It is also the absolutely indispensable tool of the fundraiser, the recruiter, and the manager.

No doubt you have written something in the last few days. Maybe it was a Facebook post. Maybe it was a thank-you note. Maybe it was a prequel toAtlas Shrugged (in which case, it may have taken you a few decades).

Think for a second about your last writing. When the reader finished it, did she completely understand your meaning as well as if she were inside your head? Did she get your jokes if you had any? Did she feel like she learned something new? That her time was well-spent? That you weren’t insulting her intelligence or attempting in vain to peacock-strut your own IQ?

It is either the very rare or the very cocky author who confidently answers “yes” to each of these questions. It is an odd paradox that most people don’t take writing seriously enough and that most people don’t have fun with it. These are not mutually exclusive goals, and you should aim for both.

In this four part series, I hope to give a few helpful tips for those who plan to write professionally — which is everyone in a policy career. What qualifies me to dispense such advice? I am not widely published, and I am not a professional writing coach. I do, however, write a heck of a lot—mostly emails and memos, a few letters of recommendation, occasional op-eds, and an academic piece here and there.

Like most, writing does not come naturally to me. But I work at it. And, as importantly, I enjoy it. In short, I am probably not unlike you, dear reader. And so I hope my advice is both helpful and relatable. If it isn’t, write me a note about it.

Matt Mitchell is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center. This post is an excerpt from the IHS “Creating Your Path to a Policy Career” guide.