The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In business, good communication skills are essential, and classes can help

Brittany Brown went from taking a strategic communications class at Georgetown to teaching a class on writing for social media. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Several years ago, Brittany Brown completed a major undertaking. As a young, ambitious public-affairs professional, she took it upon herself in 2008 to learn how to develop a strategic communications plan for her employer, the Norfolk, Va., district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It was all on-the-job training,” says Brown, now 29. “I was learning as I was going.”

Though happy with the results, Brown knew she needed further instruction to take her business writing skills to the next level. So she enrolled in a strategic communications class in 2010 at Georgetown University’s Center for Continuing and Professional Education (202-687-7000).

“That course really solidified some of the things I had learned and helped to strengthen my skills,” she says. “And it impacted my career in a positive manner for sure.”

She now works on the marketing, branding and communications team at NPR, and she’s back at Georgetown teaching writing for social media.

In today’s era of hashtag-heavy tweets, abbreviation-filled texts and quickly dashed-off emails, you might not think it matters if your written communications have lots of typos and no punctuation. But in the business world, good writing still counts.

The way you come across on paper or on the computer screen can impact everything from landing a job to securing a promotion.

“We all make assumptions,” says Anna Mauldin, product manager in the leadership and development division at Management Concepts (888-545-8577), which offers courses on business writing, grammar and other topics at its downtown D.C. and Tysons Corner locations. “Poor writing could lead people to believe that you don’t have attention to detail or to question your competence or ability to do a job.”

It can also hold you back in your career. “You can make it to a certain level without having great communication skills,” says David Lipscomb, interim director of Georgetown’s Writing Center and assistant professor of teaching at Georgetown, who taught the course Brown took. “But you certainly cannot make it to top management without being a good communicator.”

If you get tripped up by things like using the passive voice or organizing your ideas, there are lots of writing courses out there that can help. They range from daylong sessions to longer certificate programs offered via open enrollment. You can also find custom classes for specific workplaces. (See sidebar for some examples.) In them, students might cover how to use a comma, how to structure a report or how to write concisely.

Workplace newbies aren’t the only ones who could stand to improve their sentence structure.

“Most people think writing classes are just for young people,” says Karen Hormuth, executive director of training at (202-678-1600), which offers writing courses aimed at both government and general business professionals. “But people can get sloppy [over time], so any age could benefit from a writing class.”

And with so many different styles of communication needed in the workplace across so many different platforms, employees of any generation could find themselves confused about the right way to write a Facebook post versus a press release.

“There are so many levels of formality today, and that requires an ability to shift tone and voice,” says Lipscomb.

Our connected culture also means that more employees than ever before are doing some kind of internal or external communicating. “There are very few jobs in our information-age economy that do not require some element of communication,” says Lipscomb. “Everybody’s got to learn it.”

The good news is that you don’t have to be a natural. “Writing is a skill that takes practice,” says Brown. “But it’s one of those things that gets better the more you do it.”

Improve your way with words

Does your professional writing need some help? Here are some local classes that offer classroom time to polish your business communication skills. Oh, by the way, they only take a day or two.

Grammar Refresher
Where: Management Concepts

Description: This course offers information on common grammar mistakes and tips on how to avoid and fix them.

Length of class: 2 days, at either the Tysons Corner or D.C. locations

Certificate or degree option: This is an elective for several Management Concept certificate programs in an array of tracks. Courses also count for credit in two other continuing education programs.

Cost: $769

Business Writing
Where: Management Concepts

Description: Students learn how to plan documents, write copy that’s relevant to their audience and brush up on such things as word choice.

Length of class: 2 days, at either the Tysons Corner or D.C. locations

Certificate or degree option: This is a core course in Management Concept’s Professional Skills certificate program and an elective for several of its other programs.

Cost: $769

Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing
Where: TheCapitol.Net

Description: Topics covered in this class include the use of “plain English,” a directive for government workers following the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Length of class: 1 day, at  a location in the D.C. area

Certificate or degree option: No, but the class does count for 0.6 Continuing Education Unit from George Mason.

Cost: $295

Strategic Communications Planning
Where: Georgetown University’s Center for Continuing & Professional Education

Description: Students learn how to develop a strategic communications plan for their organization and ensure that their message is consistent across all platforms.

Length of class: 1 day, at Georgetown

Certificate or degree option: This class counts toward Georgetown’s certificate in Social Media Management.

Cost: $595

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