We write all day long. Engineers will write pull request descriptions, JIRA tickets, Slack messages, RFC’s, design documents, etc. We probably spend significantly more time writing words to our colleagues than we do writing code. But how often do you find yourself working on your writing or learning new writing skills compared to learning a new programming language?
I would bet writing is a very overlooked skill that most of us take for granted. Did you ever study it formally in school? We write all day long but we don’t really think about how we are writing or what good writing is. Given the ubiquity of writing and the fact we’ve likely neglected developing this skill, we can see very quick improvement with just a little bit of effort. All it takes is consistently applying a few simple techniques to start seeing results.
But with generative AI like ChatGPT, why bother becoming a good writer? Pulitzer prize winning author David McCullough said “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” Offloading your work to ChatGPT here robs you of the forced clarity that putting your thoughts down into words will offer. Drafting a message or fleshing out an idea by writing it in a document for yourself first, is a crucial step towards developing the message you want to send. This step can not be skipped.
ChatGPT might be able to help you refine your thought or message. You can ask AI to condense it, improve the grammar, use shorter sentences, etc. But you must do the crucial task of developing the coherent message that you wish to convey to your reader.
Using a LLM to write for you is lazy and painfully obvious to your reader if all you do is copy and paste a response. It’s never been impressive to write a lot which is what these models are good at doing. As we drown in a sea of AI generated garbage writing well will stand out even more. It will be more impressive and critical to respect your reader’s time by writing concisely and clearly. To be concise and simple in your writing requires you to do the work up front to break things down. These tools can help us in our writing but are not a substitute for becoming a better writer and better thinker yourself.
Writing well is important for career growth. The more senior you become, the more you will rely on communicating ideas. You will need to ensure your writing is easily consumed and understood so the people working with you can deliver the project. Writing is also a terrific way to scale yourself. You write something once and it can be read over and over by many people. Finally, writing will help you become a better thinker. Writing well will force you to deeply understand and refine your message to the point where it is as simple as possible.
Writing is a powerful and impactful but often neglected skill. With a little bit of effort and awareness we can drastically improve our ability to think and to communicate.
Stay tuned for the next part of this series which describes what good writing is and how we can get there.