Although a significant amount of meaning is communicated through nonverbal communication channels, like body language, gestures and tone of voice; in today's world of email, texting, and blogs, we rely more and more on the imperfect medium of written communication. If you've ever faced-off against someone who misinterpreted an email you sent in haste, you know that choosing the right words can sometimes be a challenge.
Why Words Matter
- Words that are arrogant can turn people off.
- Words that are negative can make people angry or despondent.
- Words that have double meaning or lack clarity can create confusion and mislead.
- Words that bore can put people to sleep and defeat your purpose.
The main goal of effective written communication is to create a “conversational style.” This doesn’t mean writing the way you speak, though. Rather, in written communication, having a conversational style means using the polite, clear, and efficient language you would typically use in a professional setting.
Tip #1: Adopt a Natural Tone
Face-to-face, we would say:
“We need this order delivered by June 10th.”
When communicating in writing, some might write:
It is imperative that the complete shipment be received at the above-mentioned address no later than the tenth of June.
For a more natural tone in writing, you might write:
It’s very important that we receive this order by June 10.
Tip #2: Vary Your Tone Depending on How Well You Know Your Reader
Writing to someone you know well
Thanks for sending me the purchase order for the extra brochures. Since you called me right away, I was able to change the printing quantity before the job reached the Production Department, which means you’ll receive all 2500 brochures next week!
Writing to someone you don’t know well
Dear Ms. Ryan:
Thank you for your revised purchase order for a final total of 2500 sales brochures. As originally requested, this order will be delivered to your office on Friday, June 16.
Tip #3: Consider Your Reader’s Vocabulary
A dichotomy in the opinions of the members present was evident. Several members favored increasing our operating budget, while the remainder sanctioned a spending decrease in this area.
The members at the meeting were divided about the operating budget. Some wanted it increased while others wanted it reduced.
Tip #4: Avoid Stilted Phrasing
Avoid using the words and phrases in the left column. Instead write what is suggested (or remove them as indicated) in the right column.
Tip #5: Eliminate Unnecessary Words
Before: A cheque in the amount of $5
After: A $5 cheque
Before: At this point in time
After: Now (or today)
Before: I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for...
After: Thank you for…
Before: At all times
Before: On a monthly basis
Tip #6: Use Specific Nouns
Use words that identify people as specifically as possible.
One person claimed the computer tables were too small.
(Who is that “one person?”)
A customer claimed the computer tables were too small.
(Better as “a customer” is more specific than “one person.”)
Mr. Jones claimed the computer tables were too small.
Tip #7: Avoid Cliches
- to add insult to injury
- an uphill battle
- as good as gold
- easier said than done
- it goes without saying
- last but not least
- needs no introduction
- without further ado
Tip #8: Replace Negative Words with Neutral or Positive Words
Before: Your complaint concerning...
After: Your comment concerning...
Before: Your argument that...
After: In your email, you mentioned that...
Before: You neglected to include...
After: Without your cheque we were unable to...
Before: Your criticism of...
After: Your feedback about...
Tip #9: Use Bias-Free Terms
- Businessperson vs Businessman
- Firefighter vs Fireman
- Supervisor vs Foreman
- Mail Carrier vs Mailman
- Police Officer vs Policeman
- Sales Representative vs Salesman
- Flight Attendant vs Stewardess
Tip #10: Eliminate Unnecessary Adverbs
Unnecessary adverbs clutter your text and weaken your message. According to Stephen King “the road to hell is paved with adverbs…”
Walter Bagehot, British Journalist, said “Cautious men have many adverbs, 'usually', 'nearly', 'almost'" — and suggested that adverbs are the sign of a timid mind.
The following adverbs are the worst culprits. They are often used to emphasize a message and add no additional information.
Be ruthless in eliminating these from your written communication: extremely, definitely, truly, very, and really.
With email, text messaging and blogs, most of us are communicating in writing more often than we interact face-to-face.There is a lot riding on those written words, so it makes sense to strive for a conversational, easy-to-understand, yet professional writing style.
TribeHR’s social HRIS provides a valuable communications channel for your workplace, with real-time peer feedback and kudos, so you'll know when you write it right! Try it free today.