Improve written communication skills
Writing is part of the communication process.
And human communication is a complex issue.
If we are going to discuss communication, it is important that we clarify the term.
I want to offer you two definitions of the word communication as it relates to your work.
These definitions can be applied to both face to face and written communication.
- Communication is defined as; the transfer of information and-or emotion.
- Communication is defined by "the response that you get".
Let us examine the first definition:
At work, you write with the intent to transfer information from one person to another.
In order to do that effectively, you need to learn how to be specific. You need to reduce the risk of ambiguity.
If your writing is vague; open to multiple interpretations, then the intended meaning of the information will be distorted. The message that the reader derives from your message will be different from the message that you intended to leave.
Therefore, you need to learn how to be more specific and accurate.
You may also be writing with intent to influence or persuade the reader emotionally. You may wish to convey a "benefit message". You may want to convey emotions such as optimism or enthusiasm.
This type of language is a complimentary and opposite style to the above, (the transfer of information).
The language of emotion is geared to elicit an emotional, rather than an intellectual response.
This is the language of the sales person, the politician or the advertiser.
It is intended to inspire an emotional response.
The two languages are opposite and complimentary.
As a writer, you need to know how each one works and when to use them.
Example of language designed to transfer information.
John. Remember to bring with you the Alec Cooper file (Ref. number C 0079/99). You and I need to be at the front reception at the Queens Hotel, The Promenade ,Cheltenham at 10.45 on Monday 23 May 2013 in order to meet with Susan Greenwood, the marketing manager for Alec Cooper. The purpose of the meeting is described on the attached sheet. Please would you read it.
(Now switching to language designed to transfer emotion).
This is a great opportunity for the whole team and I expect good things to come from the meeting.
Focus your mind. Be ready to win the contract and get rich!
Now, I want you to write a short memo.
The memo is to be related to work.
- Create a simple scenario that could easily occur in your normal environment.
- The first half of it to be focused on the transfer of information.
- The other half to be intended to create and emotional response.
- Notice how you need to change the language.
Definition of communication: Your communication is defined by the response that you get
This is a presupposition made by all good communicators.
It means the writer- speaker takes complete responsibility for the communication.
In normal, face to face communication the communication is a two way affaire.
There is the opportunity for feedback.
With a written communication, the writer is usually absent.
In this communication there is an extra responsibility on me, the writer, to entertain and inform you, the reader.
And I judge my success on your response.
In other words
- If you do not understand my message, it is I, the writer, who is responsible, not you the reader, (because I did not transfer the information).
- If you understand but do not use the material, I did not transfer enough motivation.
- If a sales document does not produce sales, it is not the prospects fault.
- If your message was misunderstood, then you did not make it clear enough.
In the written language, you the writer take all the responsibility. You need to therefore pre-empt their questions, clarify the meanings and make clear your message.
It is not the role of the reader to have to decipher your meaning.
Three advantages of the written word over the spoken word:
- The written word is accessible to many people.
- The written word can have more authority and "weight".
- The written word can be prepared with precision.
1. The written word is accessible to many people
Very large numbers of people can now access your written message.
You can cut through nature's biggest natural barriers of time and space. Now technology makes it possible for you to reach an almost unlimited audience.
With internet and intranet services becoming the norm, you have a tremendous opportunity to share your message.
2. The written word has more authority
The authority of the written word stems from two sources.
Historically, a minority of privileged people could read and write, so anything written became imbued with a symbol of authority and power.
Today, even though this argument has no logic behind it, people still respond as if what is written is more likely to be valid than what is merely said.
For example you hear people remark, "It must be true. It is here in black and white).
Secondly, the written word has more weight because it is much more permanent than the spoken word. The spoken word can be more easily denied or forgotten. The written word can be used as a source of record or conformation as to the facts.
So you may have heard someone say to a policeman, "I'll tell you what happened but I don't want to give a written statement."
Or you will hear a business person say, "Let me have your proposal in writing".
3. The written word can be prepared with precision
The real power of the written word is that you can think about it first.
You can choose your words and examples carefully.
You can plan, edit and rewrite material.
You can give extra care to the structure of your message.
The written word gives you time to get it right.
The key to successful writing is thinking.
Spend more time thinking about your writing and less time writing.
Then write what you really mean.
Here is a golden rule.
Never write to clarify your thoughts.
Clarify your thoughts in order to write.
I want to give you three criteria to apply to your writing.
You can look at these criteria as the fundamentals of good writing.
We call it the A.B.C. method.
A. Learn to be Accurate
Accuracy is the most important element to your business writing.
If you are inaccurate you will mislead others and that will cost you dearly.
So, this is most important. Learn this well:
Overall accuracy comes from:
- Having true facts that are relevant and up to date.
- Accurately interpreting the facts.
- Accurate reasoning that draws proper recommendations and implications from the facts.
- Accurate and clear language which is virtually impossible to misinterpret.
B. Learn to be brief
Most people do not have time to read huge amounts in terms of volume.
And most people would not want to even if they did have the time.
So keep your business writing brief.
Just make sure that everything you do write has a purpose and is worth reading!
C. Learn to be clear
Clarity comes from having the right degree of detail and reasoning.
If you are too brief and cut out too much, then your meaning could be compromised.
If you are too explicit, and put in too much detail, then the clarity is swamped.
In a nutshell.
Be as brief as possible whilst maintaining accuracy and clarity.
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