There are thousands of books and websites that will tell you how to format a report, write a cover letter, or design a slide presentation. But, do you know how to communicate in a way that goes beyond the standard advice?
Here are a few tips to put you on the path to being a thoughtful communicator on the job.
Consider your audience.
Many writers get caught up in deciding which formatting to use, whether to write one page or two, or even what font looks best. Before any of these considerations, think about your audience: Who are you writing to? Why? Writing is an act of communication with other people.
When considering your audience, you should think about a few different issues—starting with forms of address. If you aren’t on a first-name basis with your reader, for example, use a surname and proper title. If you don’t know their gender or preferred titles, use full names.
Finally, when you think about your audience, consider what they know and what they don’t. Avoid using jargon, acronyms, or other “insider” words if you aren’t sure your reader will understand them.
Choose the right medium of communication.
It’s a sad fact of modern business life—more and more people find email intrusive, and long email messages often go unanswered. To ensure yours gets attention, be sure you write a clear subject line, keep your message brief, and focus it on one topic. If you need a reply by a specific date, let the reader know your deadline. If you don’t need a response, inform your reader—put NRN (‘no reply necessary’) in the subject line, or somewhere in your email.
But, before you start a new email, ask yourself if email is the best mode of communication for your task, or if it’s the preferred mode of communication for your reader. If you have a brief question and you don’t need an immediate answer, email is a good choice. However, if you have a long, complex issue to discuss, you may want to make a phone call or plan a meeting, especially if confidential information needs to be exchanged.
Get to the point.
Small talk is nice over coffee, but it’s unnecessary and unwelcome in business communication. If you’re sending email, unless you have a personal relationship with your reader, there’s no need to ask how they spent the weekend or to talk about the weather.
Let your reader know immediately what the purpose of your email or memo is, and what you need or want them to do.
Listen to your writing.
After you’ve written something, read it out loud or have your computer’s text-to-speech application do it for you. Sometimes, we hear things more clearly than we read them. Listening to your writing will help catch wordiness, redundancy, spelling errors, or even problems with politeness or tone.
Find another set of eyes and ears.
If you can, recruit someone to read or listen to your communication before you send it. Practice your presentation, share your draft of your report, or have someone look over your slides. Even if you’re an effective and experienced business communicator, there’s always something to learn.
Today’s business environment requires strong communicators—it is worth your time and effort to improve your skills.
Enroll in Academic and Business Writing to enhance your writing and communication skills.
Maggie Sokolik is the lead instructor of Academic and Business Writing and Director of College Writing Programs at the University of California, Berkeley.
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