31/08/2012

By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ

Whilst I spend most of my time helping people improve their face to face communication, influencing and presentation skills, I find that more and more clients are also asking for help to improve the effectiveness of their written communication. In business, written communication can take many forms; Emails, briefing documents, newsletters, SMS messages, flyers, adverts and of course websites. Here are my top 6 written communication tips to help you get your messages across more effectively whatever the medium.

1. Get clear about your reader

Who is your written communication aimed at? This is easy for direct communication with 1 specific person but needs much more thought when there are multiple readers. Ask yourself “Who am I speaking to?” “How do they like to be addressed?” “What’s their current attitude to the content of my communication?” “How much do they already know about this subject?”

2. Get clear about your outcome

Too many people start writing without thinking about what they want their reader(s) to do as a result of reading their text. Sounds obvious I know, but almost every time a client asks me for help with a sales letter or brochure, they have difficulty answering this simple question. Once you know what you want the reader to do, make sure you state this clearly in the first paragraph of your copy.

3. Avoid jargon wherever possible

I find that lots of business copy still uses too much jargon or technical terms. It is so easy to forget that clients or even colleagues may not be familiar with a word, phrase or acronym that we use all the time without thinking. I fell into this trap myself recently when I used the term “soft skills training” I assumed that everyone knew that I was talking about the skills that relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers, but when a number of people asked for clarification I realised that this phrase wasn’t as universally understood as I had thought. If in doubt, spell it out is a good mantra to guide you.

4. Keep your language clear and simple

The point of written communication is to communicate, ie. to transfer information for the head of the writer to the head of the reader so that they understand it in more or less the same way that you meant it. It’s not about demonstrating how big your vocabulary is or how creative a writer you are! Keep your messages simple, clear and easy to read by using plain English and being specific. You can get an objective measure of how easy your document is to read using the readability statistics tool built into Microsoft Word.

5. Make it easy to read and scan

We are all busy people and a long letter,memo, web page or email with lots of text and very little white space tends to make our heart sink. Make sure you break your content down into easily digestible bight sized sections or paragraphs. This is especially important for text that designed to be read online such as emails or web pages. Use Paragraphs, Headers and Bullet points to make your text easier to understand.

6. Proof read your documents before distribution

When you write something yourself it is very easy to miss typo’s and grammatical errors. Your brain actually distorts the information your eyes see because it knows what you meant when you wrote it. Proof reading is a skill that we all need to master. I have to admit I hate doing it but I force myself to double and sometimes triple check because I understand how important it is and how it can effect the way your written message is perceived. Most computer software includes spelling and grammar checkers so I suggest you enable them and use them, but remember they are not foolproof. You can download some useful proof reading tips here.

Care to comment? This list is by no means exhaustive. I’d love to hear your top tips and I will publish the best ones in a future article.