Sadly when it comes to writing business correspondence many of us are handicapped by failure of the education system prevalent in the seventies and eighties. As a result our knowledge of grammar structure often leaves a lot to be desired. At school you may have been encouraged to write creatively and not let concerns about spelling, grammar or punctuation get in your way. There was truth in that too. However to give up on structure entirely eventually damages the quality of creative writing. I believe if there had been two separate lessons on the syllabus that of English grammar and another for creative writing we wouldn’t be struggling the way we do now.
So the first consideration in a work environment is when should we write? If you have information to share which is complex and needs time for the receiver to digest and understand than it is best presented as a written document. The same is obvious when something is legally binding or needs to be recorded. Where you need careful wording or need to consider your response then writing it is often your best choice. This is because you’ll have time to craft a reply which removes any ambiguity or the chance of mis-communication.
Short is good!
So let’s look at what you need to do to communicate effectively in writing. Firstly whenever possible use short words. Write ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’ and ‘staff’ rather than ‘human resources’. Pompous writing distances your reader. In all your language remember to write as you talk. Choose words that are clear and easy for the reader to understand. Avoid redundancy and repetition and leave out unnecessary words. This means using the language of everyday conversations rather than a pile of ‘book words’ kept especially for business writing.
Use short sentences too. Long sentences take longer to understand. Ensure you have only one main point per sentence so that gives quick and easy reading. 18 to 24 words in a sentence are more than enough. Remember your aim is to invoke understanding in others not baffle them.
Finally use short paragraphs. Paragraphs give visual as well as mental breaks to the reader. Again, you should have one main topic per paragraph. There is a rule that states a paragraph should be made up of at least two sentences. This is less of a problem now though visually one line paragraphs can look extremely abrupt and may be misconstrued by your reader as rude.
You should always take your time when writing. Write your first draft, leave it while you make a coffee then return and ruthlessly edit and proof read it. It you are unsure of the tone or the clarity get a friend or colleague to give it a quick read before you send it. All this ensures you will communicate effectively.
Read more of this in the Useful Guide to Communicating Effectively It covers:
- Assertive communication
- Communicating on the telephone
- Image and body language
- Communicating in writing
- Communicating within groups
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Speaking to an audience
- You will learn to:
- Appreciate how your message is being received
- Select the most appropriate approach within different communication scenarios
- Write in a clear and unambiguous business style
- Put your point of view, without causing offence
- Speak with confidence