Because we can’t use body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice to help us convey meaning, many of us struggle with written communication. Even without these in-person ways of communicating, we can convey an effective message in writing. Below, we discuss the most important aspects of written communication.
Keep it brief
This is essential for all effective communication. To keep our reader focused on what we have to say, we must keep our message short by looking for words and phrases we can easily eliminate, like additionally, in an effort to, and due to the fact that. For help identifying needless words, try editing software like WordRake, which identifies unnecessary words and dull sentences. Try it free for seven days here.
Telling our reader we hope she had a good weekend can make emails more personable, but we have to stay focused on our purpose. Personal touches are fine, but we should keep them to one sentence at the beginning (“I hope you enjoyed your vacation”) and maybe one at the end (“Good luck in the tennis tournament”); everything else should concern our primary subject. This will make our reader happier.
People love praise, and it doesn’t have to be full of exclamation points and gushy language. It means more if we are simply genuine and precise with our praise. “Alicia, that was one effective email.”
Offer constructive criticism
Constructive criticism is also valuable, but more difficult to write; we should consider giving it in person so our gesticulations and inflection can help soften the message. If that isn’t possible, we should find someone else to read our critique before we send it to make sure the tone is constructive.
Show we’re paying attention to their needs
People want to be heard. We can often do this by simply paraphrasing what they have written to let them know we understand their concerns. Which brings us to another way to help communicate with them . . .
Avoid jargon and acronyms
Never use an acronym unless a company, organization, or legislation is commonly known by its acronym: IBM, AT&T, NRA, NOW, EPA, NAFTA. Insider abbreviations and jargon fail to communicate our message and make our readers angry because they have no idea what we mean. Brevity is critical, but not at the expense of understanding. Our goal is to make our writing easy to read and understand, especially by an audience outside our industry.
Know when to step away
Conflict happens, but we can avoid making it worse by following the 24-hour rule: First, we sit down and write our initial thoughts on the person and situation. We use words like misguided, shortsighted, and narrowminded. It just feels good. Time well spent. Now set it aside. The next day, our vitriol will have subsided, and we will feel much calmer, so we can edit and rewrite what we wrote the day before into a constructive, impersonal assessment of the facts. Our readers can’t resist facts.
Even if we disagree with someone, it’s crucial we show respect for that person’s thoughts and contributions. Doing so makes it easier for us to collaborate. And it’s the right thing to do.
The easiest way to sound confident is to write concisely. The more we pack our writing with big vocabulary, phrases borrowed from other languages—vis-à-vis—and unnecessary words, the less confident we sound. Concise writing shows we understand what we’re saying and we believe in it, because we aren’t trying to hide behind unclear phrasing. Again, editing software like WordRake can help.
About the Author
Caroline Engle is WordRake’s Marketing Communications Specialist. She convinced WordRake to hire her as an intern after placing in editing competitions and writing a novel in a month. When she isn’t editing or writing copy, coordinating conference logistics, or helping improve WordRake’s functionality, she’s reading, going on ten-mile walks, or looking up flight prices. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.