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How to Improve Written Communication Skills

How to find the words to express yourself

One of the most common questions that people ask me, when they attend our one day, communications skills training course, is this:

"How can I find the words, to better express myself in writing?"
Some people often say to themselves, "I know what I mean, but I can't explain it".

You often need to be able to explain yourself in writing.

You need to explain yourself and your message. If you cannot explain yourself, then you won't be able to find the backing you need for your ideas.

Many people are looking for a formula that would help them find the words to express themselves in writing.

Let us see if we can create a formula that will help you to find the words to better express yourself.

The first thing to do is to recognise that, in order to be spoken, or to be written, a thought needs first to be expressed in words; in language.

Language is the best tool of expression.

You think in three major forms.

  1. You think in the form of words. Language.
  2. You think in the form of mental images. Imagination.
  3. You think in the form of feelings. Emotion.

But, presumably, you cannot transmit your mental images or emotions to others telepathically.

So you will need to transpose your emotions and your imagination into words: into language.
And with those words you need to be able to construct complete sentences.

You need to be able to construct complete sentences.

A sentence is a verbalised unit of thought.
A complete sentence is a statement that expresses a complete thought.

  • Someone (or something), DOES something, (or IS something).

Technically this construction is: SUBJECT: VERB.

Something or somebody, (the subject of the sentence), does something or is something, (The verb of the sentence).

Here are some simple sentences.

  • I am going. (Here the Subject is I: and the verb is AM GOING.).
  • They are upset.
  • You are reading.
  • People are working.
  • Dogs bark.

In order to be a complete unit of thought a sentence needs these two things.

  1. It needs: "a subject phrase" and
  2. It needs a "verb phrase".

1. The first step to written self-expression is easy. It is to write down your thought as a simple subject verb sentence. For example.

  • I don't want to go
  • I like it
  • I don't like it. etc

2. The second stage of self-expression is to ask, and answer two sets of 4 questions.

You ask questions of the subject and the verb and give whatever answers you are able, and whatever answers you wish the other person to know.

There are two sets of questions to ask.

  1. One set for the subject phrase and
  2. One set for the verb phrase.

Have a look at the diagram below:

For every subject you may ask the following:

  1. Which one?
  2. What kind?
  3. Whose?
  4. How many?

And for every verb you may ask the following:

  1. Where?
  2. How?
  3. When?
  4. Why?

You obviously cannot give the information that you don't know; and you don't give the information that you do not think you want the other to know.
Your task as a writer is to fill in the answers to as many of these questions, as you can, or as you want to, for each simple sentence.

For example.
Take the simple sentence:

"Mistakes happen".

"Mistakes" is the subject. "Happen", is the verb

Now you can answer any or all the following questions.

  • Which mistakes happen?
  • What kinds of mistakes happen?
  • Whose mistakes happen?
  • How many mistakes happen?

And for the verb phrase, you could ask:

  • Mistakes happen: Where?
  • Mistakes happen: How?
  • Mistakes happen: Why?
  • Mistakes happen: When?

Look at this second example

"The People are working" is the simple sentence.

Now you can, and maybe should, give all the additional details by answering all 8 questions.
There are four questions, for the subject and another four questions for the verb.

People are working:

  • Which people, are working?
  • What kind of people, are working?
  • Whose people, are working?
  • How many people, are working?

People are working:

  • Where are they working?
  • How are they working?
  • Why are they working? and
  • When are they working?

When writing, use the same formula to help you to find the words you need:

  1. Name the initial idea in the form of a simple sentence: a simple "subject, verb" sentence.
  2. Then ask and answer the four questions for the subject phrase: which ones? what kind?, whose?, how many?.
  3. Ask and answer the four questions for the verb phrase: where? how?, when?, why?

Look at the formula below and memorise its shape and content.

Use it to trigger questions that will help you find the words.
Use it to trigger questions that will help you to listen to others, or to more analytically read what others have written.

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