10 Essential Principles, Techniques, and Skills of Strong Written Communications
Audience: Know your target audience. Where they live, their professions, needs, expectations, and understanding of your subject. Anticipate their questions, and respond to them without readers needing to ask. This will show you have taken the time to consider other perspectives.
Clarity: Use words your audience understands. Fancy words may impress some people. But the risk is of sounding pompous, confusing readers, and alienating potential customers. Plain language helps engage your audience. Briefly explain any background information and the significance of your proposition to them.
Purpose: Decide what you want to achieve in a communication and focus on that issue without getting side-tracked. Include a “call to action,” such as contact details to book a free consultation, or offer a discount if they buy now.
Avoid jargon and buzzwords: Jargon and specialist terminology may confuse your audience. When terminology is unavoidable, keep it to a minimum and include an explanation in plain language. I explain several techniques to help readers understand key terminology without interrupting the flow of your narrative. One easy way is to include a brief plain explanation in parentheses or a sentence.
You hear expressions such as “take it to the next level” or “blue sky thinking” all the time. They may sound inspirational, but have little substance. Your writing has more impact when you avoid hype and get down to practicalities. For example, instead of “the next level,” define what that level is and the steps needed to reach it.f
Use concrete language: Abstract words are great when discussing theories, categories, and concepts among academic or professional peers. But the problem with abstractions is that they are abstract, conjuring in the reader’s mind a variety of images. The “resolution” of a dispute might be anything from an apology to settling out of court.
Be concise: Concision means making every word, sentence, and paragraph count. Omit words that do not have an independent function. That does not restrict you to bland prose. You may decide to use a particular turn of phrase to give your writing style or flair, or establish a tone, or inject a humour. But choose carefully, rather than try to show off. Concision does not mean glossing over important details with generalisations. It means using only as many words as you need to deliver your message without turning away readers by bogging them down in more information than they need.
Process: Except for brief emails and routine communications, trying to achieve perfection in one sitting can be frustrating and time consuming because there are too many things to think of at once. It is better to tackle the project step by step. Start with an outline. The focus of a first draft is to get your ideas down on paper in sentences and paragraphs and sections. The next drafts should focus on structure, clarity, consistency, and concision.Polishing grammar and punctuation comes later.
Show, don’t tell: This is the writer’s mantra, which is much more difficult to abide by than it sounds. Writing that a product is “fantastic” leaves the reader relying on the writer’s biased opinion. Instead, show what the product does and how its features are superior to those of rivals without making misleading claims.
Don’t bore your reader: Focus on the main points you want to convey and which readers are interested in hearing about. Do this in order of importance, demonstrating the significance of your premise or proposal to your readers. Do not underestimate the power of entertaining as well as informing your audience. However, do not get bogged down in struggling to find a perfect anecdote or other “soft” introduction.
Formality: Stick to the appropriate level of formality. What is the appropriate level? An email to team-mates about an after-work gathering at a bar may have a casual register, including slang, exclamation marks, emoji, or other emotive signifiers. Most business writing is formal, factual, objective, unemotional, uses words according to their common dictionary definitions. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation should be correct, and style consistent.
(What are good communication skills? - To understand why these principles and skills are important in written business communications, and how to apply them, please see my other blogposts on this website, or enrol in my online business writing course, which is featured on the home page of the Kohut Writing Academy).
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