On the Importance of Writing

Writing is an essential skill to develop if you want to reach “the next level” in your Knowledge Work career. Here's why.


Writing is a skill that too few Knowledge Workers actually develop and rely on. I want to discuss some of the reasons why writing is actually an essential skill to develop if you want to reach “the next level” in your Knowledge Work career.

I’ll do my best to convince you that writing is deeply impactful and can contribute more than you can imagine to your personal and professional growth. I really want you to avoid underestimating the value of writing. It’s not about becoming writers or bloggers. It’s not about becoming Shakespeare. Writing is essential for many other goals.

One essential thing that I want to help you understand is that writing is thinking. The more you write, the better you’ll be able to think, and act. As Jordan Peterson put it:

If you can think and speak and write, you are absolutely deadly. Nothing can get in your way… Writing is the most powerful weapon you can possibly provide someone with — Jordan Peterson

As society evolves, we are writing more than ever. And with the rise of AI in general and Large Language Models (LLMs) in particular, the importance of writing will keep increasing. And it’s not because you can speak well that you can write well.

Note: This content is part of the Knowledge Worker Kit.

How can writing help you?

Among other things, writing can help you:

  • Externalize your thinking

  • Clarify your thoughts, ideas, emotions and experiences

  • Capture and persist what matters

  • Uncover your knowledge and understanding gaps

  • Improve your vocabulary, grammar, spelling and syntax

  • Improve your communication skills

  • Learn better and build better mental models

  • Retain more of what you learn and improve your memory

  • Explore many more options than your mind alone ever could (i.e., go much wider/deeper)

  • Improve your imagination and be more creative

  • Be more logical and think more critically

  • Better solve problems

  • Make better decisions

  • Make better first impressions and gain influence

  • Establish your expertise and improve your reputation

  • Advance your career

  • Self-reflect, better know yourself and grow

  • Reduce cognitive overhead

  • Relief stress and improve your emotional well-being

  • Share what you think, learn and know

  • Leave traces behind

  • Connect to others

  • Better document and plan

  • Keep track of everything

  • Better organize yourself

Let’s explore those ideas one by one. As I’m doing this exercise for you, writing the above ideas down has already helped me define the branches I’m planning to explore. I couldn’t have done the same exercise by just thinking. Writing the above list down helped me on many levels.

Alright, let’s get started!

Externalize your thinking

First, writing is a fantastic way to externalize your thinking. By writing down what you have in mind, you can quite literally take it out of your head and put it on the screen or on paper.

Once something is written down, it becomes real, tangible, concrete. Writing turns thoughts and ideas into physical objects that you can manipulate in any way you want.

Being able to physically see your thoughts, will help you in various ways:

  • You will reduce the noise in your head, leading to a clearer mind and less anxiety

  • You will be able to focus on one idea at a time (i.e., focus on what matters, in a logical order)

  • You will be able to filter out the noise

  • You will not forget what you wrote down unless you want to

  • You will be able to explore one idea at a time

  • You will not be limited by your brain’s short-term memory

The human brain has many limitations. We have limited short-term memory, we forget things, we can’t focus on more than a few things at a time, random thoughts are generated all the time, etc. As we grow, we improve the way we use our brain, but its limitations always remain. And as we age, those limitations become more and more taxing.

Externalizing your thinking is actually the very first step towards “managing” your Knowledge, and I believe that it’s an essential one for growing as a Knowledge Worker.

Clarify your thoughts, ideas, emotions and experiences

Sometimes, thoughts and ideas pop into our minds, but they’re vague, unclear, and incomplete. They’re like embryos that we need to develop. Writing is a great way to explore and better understand what you really have in mind. It’s a forcing function that can help you clarify and better formulate your thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

When you write your thoughts, ideas, and emotions down, you get the opportunity to express, extend, and complete them. You get to reflect on what you’re thinking or feeling. You get to observe from the outside looking in. Furthermore, you also get the opportunity to add context and establish links between those and past or future events. This enriches the “raw information” (i.e., your thoughts) a lot.

Writing also enables you to reflect on your life experiences. This lets you express what you felt, thought, enjoyed, liked, or disliked. These are valuable insights that you could not always easily get to.

Capture and persist what matters

Another huge benefit of writing is that it helps you capture and persist what matters to you and that might also be useful or important for others.

Our brains are really unreliable, we keep forgetting things. Our memory is unreliable, and information retrieval is fuzzy at best. We can’t always get access to what we need when we need it. How many times did you forget the name of someone close? What about that movie you saw a few days back? We just can’t trust our memory all the time. Beyond that, our ability to think about different things at the same time is really limited. Long story short, we need to externalize our thinking, and capture the information we care about.

Capturing what matters enables us to:

  • Remember “everything”

    • What inspires us

    • What we learn

    • What we think

    • What we’ve experienced

  • Drastically increase our capacity to think

  • Learn more efficiently

  • Connect the dots beyond what our brain allows

  • Solve complex problems

  • Bring order to mountains of information

  • Share valuable information and insights

  • Refer to what we have encountered before

  • Leave more behind us

Moreover, in our digital era, more and more evolved tools further expand the realm of possibilities. For instance, it’s now possible to train Large Language Models on our externalized knowledge. This opens the door to a ton of innovation and progress! And as the pace of evolution accelerates,

Uncover your knowledge and understanding gaps

Writing forces you to find ways to express what’s inside of you. The thing is that you can’t get more out than there actually is. As a result, writing is an excellent way to discover your current limits and to uncover the gaps in your knowledge and understanding.

Writing is formalized thinking— Jordan Peterson

As you write things down, you will get evident hints:

  • Inability to clearly explain an idea

  • Inability to find the right words

  • Inability to go back to first principles

  • Gaps and blanks between ideas

There are even better techniques for finding out about your knowledge and understanding gaps. We explore those in the Knowledge Workers Kit:

Understanding those gaps is the first step toward improving.

Improve your vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and syntax

Speakers have “helpers” with them. They can set the tone. They can use facial expressions. Their stress level can be felt. They’re also directly connected to their audience. When you write, whether for your future self or for others, you don’t have that luxury. You are disconnected from your audience. You are alone to write, and they are alone to read. So you need to level up your game in order to be understood.

The more you write, the more you will learn. You will improve your vocabulary, and expand the realm of ideas you can express. You will also improve your grammar, spelling, and syntax. I’m by no means a good writer. English is not my mother tongue, and although I appreciate this language a lot, I feel very limited compared to what I can express in French. Although, after having spent years of my life writing English prose, I am able to express myself clearly enough. I can convey ideas, and convince people.

Improve your communication skills

The more you write, the better you can communicate with others. This is helpful in various contexts. Personal and professional.

In your personal life, you can prepare better speeches, better express yourself, and write better letters to your friends, family, and lovers.

In your professional life, you can write better resumes, better memos, better instructions for your colleagues, better documentation, better presentations, etc. The better you can write, the better you can express yourself. And the more you do it, the better you get.

By improving your communication skills, you will gain tremendous leverage.

Learn better and build better mental models

The more you write, the better you will learn. Simple as that. By simple virtue of writing, your brain will better grasp the ideas you capture and develop, and it will lead to the creation of much more valuable mental models. Those can be created by practice, but you can accelerate the pace by writing about what you learn. This is especially true when writing on paper (as it associates physical movements with information you’re exploring), although not limited to that. As you connect the dots, you will expand your understanding of wider topics in your areas of interest.

Retain more of what you learn and improve your memory

As an extension of the previous point, writing will improve your memory. The simple act of writing (again, especially on paper) will help your brain focus and retain more. Studies have proven that there is more brain activity while students are writing.

Not only will you retain more, but you will also create “artefacts” that can serve you for a lifetime. If I did that earlier, I would have been able to accumulate a lot more useful knowledge and information I’ve stumbled upon and explored over the years. This would have given me an enormous advantage today. The good news is that it’s still time to serve, and as technology evolves, it will be more and more valuable.

Explore many more options than your mind alone ever could

When you write things down, you give yourself the opportunity to explore topics in a much deeper way. You can explore each branch of the “knowledge tree” one after another. You could do this with your mind alone, but you’d lose a good portion of the leaves you touch. When you write, you don’t lose anything, and you can go much wider and deeper. This opens the doors to systematic thinking and exploration.

Improve your imagination and be more creative

Writing engages your mind in a creative and exploratory process. It can greatly help improve your imagination. When you write, you need to create mental images. Describing those elements in details strengthens your ability to imagine. Writing helps you express ideas, thoughts and emotions in unique and imaginative ways.

When you write, you can step into the shoes of other people. It’s an exercise in empathy and understanding that increases your ability to imagine the world from various viewpoints, which is valuable as knowledge workers, as the product of our work is used by people with varied backgrounds and with different expertise and focus.

This gives you the opportunity to see the world differently, both at a personal and professional level.

Be more logical and think more critically

Writing arguments, pros and cons down lets you explore facts in a very systematic and organized way. This helps clarify and articulate your thoughts clearly. The process of going from abstract ideas into concrete language helps organize and clarify your thinking, which fosters logical reasoning.

When you write arguments down, you’re pushed to identify the premises, evidence, hints, and conclusions. This structured approach encourages logical organization and coherence when you’re presenting ideas. Also, the sequence of ideas gets more logical as you write, whether you’re outlining the steps in a process, exploring your ideas, or trying to solve a problem.

This helps identify logical fallacies, bias, and causal relationships more easily. Moreover, it also makes it possible to synthesize information.

Simply put, writing helps you think more analytically. By regularly engaging in the process of organizing thoughts, constructing arguments, and presenting ideas clearly, you can enhance your ability to think logically, critically, and better evaluate the information at your disposal.

Better solve problems

As an extension of the previous point, writing helps better solve problems.

First, it helps to clarify the definition of the problems you’re facing. It forces you to articulate it clearly. This step is essential for understanding the problem and establishing a foundation for its resolution. By writing about problems, you clearly identify the key issues you need or want to solve. At work, I always start by writing down the key points, before I even start thinking about how to solve the problem. It also enables setting clearer goals and objectives.

Having a clear problem definition that you can observe and share is essential for problem-solving, both when you’re working on your own or with a group of people. With it, you can brainstorm, evaluate different approaches, and find creative solutions.

With a written problem definition, you also get to track your progress toward the resolution.

Make better decisions

Writing has a key role to play for decision-making. Given the opportunity it creates to be more objective, and to think critically, it helps make decisions that truly weigh the pros and cons and optimizes the results.

Writing assists in organizing information relevant to decision-making. You can document key considerations, potential outcomes, and criteria for evaluating different solutions.

You can also define the criteria important for the decision, including objectives, values, and priorities.

Moreover, you can better assess risks by identifying those associated with each possible decision. This helps make more informed choices.

Writing gives you more time to reflect. This enhances the quality of your decisions as it gives you the opportunity to reconsider options and potential outcomes.

You can also help yourself and your team using decision trees, flowcharts & diagrams, and leverage writing to document your decisions and the rationale behind those.

Make better first impressions and gain influence

Your image depends a lot on your ability to write well. As we interact more and more online, our important first interactions also happen via written communication. You have more and more chances to be read before being seen or heard.

The more skilled you are at writing, the better first impressions you can make. Writing well helps you better convey professionalism, clarity, and consideration. This will leave a positive and lasting impact on your readers.

Writing can also help you gain influence. Writing well and improving your communication skills will help you be clear and persuasive. It will help you gain respect and influence among your peers and colleagues.

Clear and impactful content will de-facto increase your reputation and influence. Well-researched and well-presented content will increase your reputation as well as your influence, and will also make you a better negotiator.

Establish your expertise and improve your reputation

Consistent, high-quality writing builds credibility. This can help you establish your expertise and improve your reputation. When you create high-quality and high-value content, people do notice.

Moreover, written words last, and can further increase your reputation over time. I’ve written high-quality documentation years ago for multiple projects, and ex-colleagues still praise me for it. And on the Web, each article I publish contributes to my overall reputation.

That’s not to say that writing is everything, but it does have an impact!

Advance your career

There are many ways in which writing can help you advance your career. Let’s explore a few of those.

First, better communication skills are essential in the workplace. We’ve already discussed how writing can improve that. Whether you write emails, reports, documentation, presentations, or other types of documents, writing well will enhance your professional image and effectiveness. Good writing can help you build a personal and professional brand.

You can better manage projects by creating clear and solid plans, contributing to a shared vision, convincing stakeholders, writing better reports, etc. Effective project execution directly leads to career growth.

And writing can serve you in various other ways in the workplace: conflict resolution, mentorship, training, networking, leadership, etc. The list is quite long!

You can also document and highlight your achievements, which can help you showcase your value and write better resumes or portfolios.

Self-reflect, better know yourself, and grow

We all spend way too much time running away from reality. We do this by going out with friends, keeping busy, watching Netflix, reading books, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we all need time to think on our own. We need to take time to self-reflect and do some introspection work.

Writing is a wonderful way to self-reflect. Journaling, for example, allows you to explore your emotions, your experiences, and increase your self-awareness. It’s all about self-care. How can you not blame yourself if you don’t take the time to understand what you’re going through and the reasons behind your past actions?

Writing will help you better know yourself, and work on your personal development. It will help you grow. Period.

Reduce cognitive overhead

As knowledge workers, we all share a common “issue”: we’ve always got a lot on our minds. It’s a key part of our line of work, and it can be taxing. Mental work can be as exhausting as a day of physical work.

While we work on our projects, we create mental contexts that are specific to what we’re busy with. A mental context is a graph of information, data, facts, and relationships that we store in our short-term memory while solving problems or exploring ideas. The more we focus on something, the more information we accumulate, progressively enriching the mental context.

For instance, when I work as a software developer, I constantly create mental contexts while troubleshooting issues. These include information such as:

  • What the problem is

  • What are the symptoms

  • When did it start occurring

  • Systems, sub-systems, components, modules, and functions that interact together to achieve some goals

  • What calls what in which order

  • How data flows within the system

  • Which files, classes, database tables, variables, and functions are relevant to the problem at hand

Mental contexts take time, effort, and focus to be created and kept around in our memory. That’s why interruptions are so taxing at work. Whenever we are interrupted, we lose a part of the information we accumulated, and it takes a lot of time/energy to get back to the same point (i.e., to restore the mental context we had built).

Fear is not the mind-killer, context switching is the mind-killer — Elon Musk

Most of the information in our mental contexts is only useful/relevant to retain while we are busy working on specific tasks and can be “forgotten” once we are done. That being said, at least a part of the information needs to be kept in some way from one workday to the next. For example, if we’re not done with a certain task at the end of the workday, then we do save the relevant information we’ve acquired, somehow.

In addition, we also need to retain meta-information about work: what we’re trying to achieve, when we should be done, what we should do next, etc.

Writing is the perfect tool to offload all those mental contexts where they belong: out of your head. Before you leave work, you need to capture those contexts to be able to restore them later, when you get back to work. We explore mental contexts and ways to save/restore in the Knowledge Worker Kit.

Relief stress and improve your emotional well-being

We all face difficult and stressful situations. Writing not only lets you know more about yourself but also helps with emotional well-being. By taking the time you need to process your emotions, you can quickly feel better. Expressing emotions is a great way to relieve stress and understand more about what you’re going through in life. Writing is a way to heal.

Share what you think, learn, and know

Writing enables sharing what you have in mind, what you are learning and what you know about. It can help you, and others grow. Sharing is one of the main ways to improve your learning.

Leave traces behind

What we write down can persist long after we are gone. Writing can help you leave traces behind and create a legacy for your family and peers. The world needs more people who write about their stories and discoveries.

Connect to others

Writing facilitates connection. Whether through notes, memos, letters, emails, or social media, writing enables you to communicate with people near and far, creating and maintaining connections. Writing lets you get in touch with people you’d never meet otherwise. And it’s the same at work. If you write a lot, then you’ll get to connect with many others, even long after you have left.

Better document and plan

Writing is a powerful tool in the workplace. When I’m at work, I’m constantly writing ideas down and documenting my work. This enables me to build valuable knowledge bases over time, but also better plan, execute and track projects.

Keep track of everything

If you try to keep everything in your head, you will certainly forget a ton of things. Forgetting things doesn’t always matter, but sometimes it can negatively impact your projects and even your reputation.

Write things down, and you’ll never forget anything. Let the systems you rely on remember everything for you!

Better organize yourself

Last but not least, writing is my number one recommendation when it comes to better organizing yourself. Writing helps a TON with personal and organization.

You can write down your plans, your goals, list and describe your tasks, imagine the steps to go from A to Z, review your progress, describe your systems, your processes, your routines, and much more!


Ready to get to the next level?

If so, then check out the Knowledge Worker Kit, the Obsidian Starter Kit, the Obsidian Starter Course, the PKM Library, a PKM coaching session with me, my collection of books about software development and the IT Concepts Wall 🔥.

If you want to discuss, then don't hesitate to join the Personal Knowledge Management community or the Software Crafters community.

About Sébastien

Hello everyone! I'm Sébastien Dubois (you can follow me on Twitter 🐦).

I'm an author, founder, and CTO. I write books and articles about software development & IT, personal knowledge management, personal organization, and productivity. I also craft lovely digital products 🚀

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