There was a time when written communication was confined to letters (and postcards) and memos. Today, text messages, emails, DMs, and posts on social media are an integral part of our lives. And it’s those current modes of written communication which have made the older ones more of a challenge.
Studies show that our spelling has distinctly deteriorated, and auto correct can make things even worse. In addition to the assorted acronyms we use (IMHO, ICYM, FYI, ASAP, etc.), we “shorten” the spelling of common words (U, UR, L8TR, NP). When we do want to write something more formal, we must fight our new instinctive use of spelling shortcuts.
But there is still a place for a written letter or memo. Indeed, evidence shows a thank you letter means much more today than ever before, both because of its rarity and the recognition that it took extra time. What can you do to make sure you do the best job possible when you decide written communication is necessary?
Paul B. Thornton offers these 8 Ways to Improve Your Written Communication:
- Know your objective – What was your purpose for writing this? Keep in mind that by using this format, you are increasing its significance to the receiver. What do you want the receiver to know or do? Think this through before starting.
- Organize your message so it’s easy to follow – Thornton says to choose either the conclusion or the problem and state it in the beginning, so the receiver knows the purpose of the communication. Not only do we write in shortcuts, but we also read faster than we used to or we skim. The sooner the reader knows you point the better.
- Explain and support your ideas – This works best after you start with your desired outcome. Here is where you give examples of the effects of the problem or situation. Don’t use too many, just say “there are others I can detail,” and keep it brief.
- Use bullets or numbers – As you can see in the way this blog is written, this approach helps the reader get the information more easily. The logic or sequence of your thinking can be seen as well as the most important points. Also consider the use of bold and italic to make your focus clearer.
- Use short sentences – Most readers skim longer pieces of communication. Technology has significantly increased the practice. To keep the reader engaged, keep sentences short.
- Use precise words and phrases – To be certain your message gets through Thornton advises we be specific and avoid vague phrases such as “as soon as possible.” Be clear about the issue, your concerns, and/or your solutions.
- Use an active voice – Active voice makes for more powerful and clear sentences. “The problem was created by a lack of resources,” is not as strong as “A lack of resources created the problem.”
- Edit your writing – The more important the communication, the more it needs to be reviewed and polished. Thornton recommends having a trusted person read it before you send it out. If you can’t do that, build in some time to step away from what you wrote so that you can come back and review it later. (And yes, I have my blog posts professionally edited.)
Being a good communicator is a vital leadership quality. Work on your written communication as much as you do the other forms. Because of their rarity, they are looked at more closely. Keep them short and clear, and you’ll make a memorable impression.