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5 reasons every developer should learn to write well

I'm convinced that writing well is a core engineering skill. Here's why:

  1. Good code is like good writing. Expressing your intentions succinctly, in a way that is accessible to its intended audience, isn’t just about good syntax. You need to structure your work clearly and explain yourself well, with an audience in mind. (It’s worth saying: the audience for code is other programmers, not the computer.) There's a lot you can learn from writing that is directly applicable to coding.

  2. Good code needs to sit alongside good writing. Code doesn’t self-document. Yes, you need to name your methods and variables carefully, and pay careful attention to your layout and style. But you also need to write actual inline documentation, written in human language, that describes what your methods do and why. You’ll help any future engineers who come across your code - and that probably includes you, a few months down the line.

  3. Writing forces reflection and rigor. Before you write a single line of code, you should fully understand the problem you’re solving - and how. Some of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with write out their ideas first in specification documents. These documents allow them to receive feedback from their peers, but also help them figure out if they’ve figured out the right details. But it only really works if they’re written using clear language and a strong structure: fuzzy writing is an indication of fuzzy thinking.

  4. Great engineers communicate cross-functionally. The myth of an engineer who puts on a pair of headphones, enters the Zone, and never communicates with anyone is just that: a myth. In order to be able to scope the problem you’ve taken on, and to ensure that you’ve solved it well, you’ll almost certainly need to communicate well with other teams. That means empathizing for them as an audience, writing clearly, minimizing jargon, and only including the details you need to in order to convey your message (but no fewer).

  5. Writing well conveys competence. The previous items describe writing well as a duty of care for your colleagues. The truth is, it can directly affect your career: spelling and punctuation errors lead to worse outcomes for jobseekers, promotions, fundraising, and more. An overwhelming majority of business leaders - i.e., the people who employ you - agree that poor writing wastes their time. It’s not just about showing care for the people you work with; it’s about making a better impression on them, too.