Written Communication

Basic Business Cents

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Winston Churchill in a radio broadcast in 1939

No, this not a political article but the quotation is useful to point another puzzle wrapped in an enigma that we are faced with today. Communicating through writing is essential in the modern world and is becoming ever more so as we participate in the information age. Yet, the current generation is thought to have terrible writing skills and use of proper grammar. We are living in an era where we have a flood of information but a drought of knowledge. We need to overcome this puzzle wrapped in a riddle if we want to be successful.

Written communication is more permanent and raises accountability. It is a lasting document that can be used for reference, guidance, and holds the author accountable for the truth of the document. Therefore, care must be put into the content. Fortunately, time can be taken to proof read, think about what is said, how others may interpret or misinterpret, and whether it clearly conveys the intention of the author. This is not always the case with oral communications.

Written communications need to be complete, concise, clear, and courteous. The document should contain the facts needed to support the aim of the communication but only those pertinent. It should rarely be more than one page long or it is in danger of being put aside until the reader finds time. Most people are very busy today and that time to read long treatises rarely is found. At the same time, do not fall victim of saving time by using acronyms. They mean something to the author but often not the reader. I sometimes jokingly say, “I would like to stamp out all acronyms ASAP” to prove a point. I need to follow my own advice; ASAP stands for As Soon As Possible.

It helps to clarify intent if you use active verbs to be more action oriented, and clearer about what you want to accomplish. Improper grammar can cause the reader to focus on mistakes and miss the point of the message.

Always remember to be courteous; don’t burn bridges that will haunt you later. Remember written documents are permanent. You are more likely to receive support and cooperation if you show respect and trust.

Emails have become a common means of communication and most of the common sense rules above are applicable in this medium as well. We tend to become lazy, hurried, and less formal with emails, but they are still are permanent documents in which we need to take care.

The first, and maybe most important, thing to remember about emails is to choose the subject line carefully. It may determine whether the reader opens the email. Clearly define the topic, relevant times and places, and key words. Personalize the subject line if possible.

Use only one topic per email and keep it short and to the point. Bullet points and formatting are helpful in adding clarity and conciseness.  Other rules above apply. If action is required, list desired results and times involved.

If replying to emails, direct your response to only those who have a need to see it; don’t hit reply to all if not required, so you are not cluttering up their inboxes.

In this age of smart phone messages, tablet computers, and other electronic help, writing skill is more important than ever to business success. If only I had paid more attention and studied grammar harder in school.