Good communication is essential in every organization, large and small. Demonstrating effective communication is also paramount to the reputation of each individual employee—building trust, respect, and confidence all around.
While strong communication skills are hugely important to the success of any organization, the skill itself is often undervalued because it is difficult to define and is nearly impossible to quantify. Communication is therefore a skill that must be demonstrated with clear messages that are well executed. Written communication is your best opportunity to show these skills because you can always take an extra moment to improve phrasing and grammar before sending or printing.
Always start and end your writing process with audience and purpose. Start by asking these questions:
Who is my audience?
What purpose does this document serve?
If you do not know who the audience is, focus on the purpose of the document. If you are unable to determine the purpose, consider whether you should be spending time on the project at all.
Consider what you know about your audience as you structure the document:
Will my reader have time to only skim the document or will they be interested in lengthy and detailed descriptions?
Will my reader need to have figures and percentages available in order to make an important decision?
Next, consider the purpose of the document in order to keep your writing on theme and consider the structure so that it meets the needs of the reader. Consider the following examples:
A set of instructions to complete a specific task
An email that offers guidance drawn from personal experience and refers the reader to other resources
A follow-up memo that addresses answers to a current question or concern within your company.
Edit for grammar, punctuation, syntax, and clarity. The amount of time spent on your edit should reflect the professional caliber of your audience. For example, an email to a colleague who does the same tasks as you should have a quick proofread to confirm that the message is clear, while you should devote plenty of time for a potential overhaul on a memo addressed to the head of your department or a company CEO.
If you find yourself questioning whether a particular joke, an item of jargon, or a slang word is appropriate in the message, trust your gut and remove it. It is far more important to be professional than to nail a punchline. When you find yourself tempted to include any sort of emoticon, consider why you feel that a smiley face would be helpful in the first place. Does a negative message or piece of constructive criticism feel less abrasive with a smiley face at the end of it? If so, find a more professional way to tamper that message, perhaps by “sandwiching” it with two positive messages.
Feeling overwhelmed? Search for examples of well-written emails, memorandums, and more online, or check out your local library or community college for free seminars. In this fast-paced world, we sometimes forget that one of our most valuable commodities is time. Use the time you have now to become more confident in your writing and someday constructing a well-written email on the fly will be second nature.
- Linda Rosenwinkel has over 10 years experience in customer service as well as 6 years of experience in management. She graduated from Boise State University with a B.A. in Writing and a Technical Writing Certificate.