Written messages just might be the most dangerous form of communication. There are so many ways that they can go wrong and lead to miscommunication. If you have ever written a message that someone else misunderstood, then you know what I mean.
While, the general rules of effective communication apply equally to both spoken and written forms, there are some special factors to remember when you communicate in writing.
I covered some general, big-picture communication ideas a few weeks ago when I wrote about Three Critical Factors to Consider Before You Choose a Communication Technique. Today, I’m expanding the ideas in that post to add these special considerations for you to remember when you write.
When you write a message of any kind, keep in mind…
The idea of greatest interest to the reader
Most people skim written messages more than they read them – especially when people “read” on a computer screen. If you want to grab the reader’s attention so that they get your main idea, make it easy to see.
Make the main idea stand out in some way.
- Use bullet points
- Put the main point as early as possible in the text
- Use formatting that makes the main point(s) easy to find
If people have to work too hard to find something that pertains to them in your message, they will likely miss it altogether.
How it will likely “sound” to the reader
In written form, people only have the voice in their own head to interpret the words you write. The reader chooses the tone that your words carry, and, in my experience, people sitting alone with your words tend to read them more negatively and more aggressively than you intended them. As a result, communicating sensitive issues in writing will likely take more time and more words than communicating the same message in spoken form.
Since you will not be present when they read what you wrote so that you can adjust your delivery or clarify your message, it is doubly important to consider the reader’s DISC style (if you know it) when you communicate in writing. If you are task-oriented, remember to work on “softening” your words for people-oriented readers. If you are people-oriented, remember to get to the point faster for task-oriented readers.
Where (and in what medium) the reader will read it
If you write messages of any kind – letters, emails, texts, or social media updates – remember that the person reading your words will likely not read your words in the same environment where you wrote them. You might be dashing through an airport quickly responding on your phone while your colleague reads the message quietly in his office. Or, you could compose it in your office while he reads the message on his phone dashing through an airport.
Always consider the reader’s environment in your message. Will they read it on paper or on a computer screen, on a wide-screen monitor or on a smart phone? Every context is different. Every context creates a different communication challenge for your reader.
Here’s a bonus thought – pay attention to punctuation.
I don’t suggest that you have to know all punctuation rules and apply them perfectly. I do suggest that you should at least give it some consideration. I see many emails and text messages that look to me like the writer made no effort to follow good punctuation rules. Punctuation helps the reader know where to pause and how to better interpret your intent. Do your readers a favor with good punctuation. (If you find punctuation errors in this post, sorry. I’m not perfect in this area. I do think about it and try to catch my mistakes before publishing.)
If you have thoughts or ideas to expand these ideas, I’d love to see them. Please let me know your insights for better written communication in the comments section below.