Written Communication Basics


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The most effective communication is that which is simple and easily understood by the targeted reader. Some basics to be borne in mind while writing.

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Written Communication Basics

  1. 1. Written Communication - Basics A Presentation by Rajiv Bajaj
  2. 2. Basic Need for Adaptation <ul><li>For writing to be clear, it must be adapted to the reader </li></ul><ul><li>Adaptation = Fitting the message to the specific reader </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>All readers do not have : </li></ul><ul><li>1. The same vocabulary or the same knowledge of the subject </li></ul><ul><li>2. The same mentality, or the same ability to understand </li></ul><ul><li>Form the message to fit the person’s mind </li></ul><ul><li>This helps us to communicate better - it is also the basis of business etiquette </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>Adaptation begins with visualizing the reader </li></ul><ul><li>Imagining what he or she knows, feels or thinks </li></ul>Visualising the Reader
  5. 5. Technique of Adapting <ul><li>Often you will have to write at levels lower than your own </li></ul><ul><li>When writing to a less educated person, you may need to simplify </li></ul><ul><li>You may write differently for highly educated people </li></ul>
  6. 6. Adapting to Multiple Readers <ul><li>If you write for one person in a group, you may miss the others </li></ul><ul><li>To communicate with all of them, write for the lowest member of the group </li></ul>
  7. 7. Governing Role of Adaptation <ul><li>Adaptation underlies all that will be said about writing </li></ul><ul><li>It should be applied to all other writing instructions </li></ul>
  8. 8. Suggestions for Selecting Words <ul><li>Selecting right words is a part of adaptation </li></ul><ul><li>Here are some suggestions to help us select such words… </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>These suggestions stress simplicity because : </li></ul><ul><li>1. Many people tend to write at a difficult level </li></ul><ul><li>2. The writer usually knows the subject better than the reader; and </li></ul><ul><li>3. Writing below the reader’s level of understanding communicates best </li></ul>
  10. 10. Use Familiar Words <ul><li>Familiar words communicate. Use them. </li></ul><ul><li>Use your judgment in determining what words are familiar. Examples: </li></ul><ul><li>INSTEAD OF USE </li></ul><ul><li>Endeavour Try </li></ul><ul><li>Terminate End </li></ul><ul><li>Utilise Use </li></ul><ul><li>Perform Do </li></ul><ul><li>Initiate Begin </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Difficult words are not all bad </li></ul><ul><li>Use them when they fit your needs </li></ul><ul><li>And when they are understood by the reader ! </li></ul>
  12. 12. Use Slang & Clichés with Caution ! <ul><li>Use them only when they are meaningful </li></ul><ul><li>Cliché : Stereotyped expression - sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. sadder but wiser ; strong as an ox etc </li></ul><ul><li>Use only in informal communication </li></ul>
  13. 13. Use Short Words <ul><li>Generally, shorter words communicate better </li></ul><ul><li>Shorter words are generally more familiar and hence understood easily </li></ul><ul><li>Heavy use of long words – even long words that are understood – leaves an impression of difficulty that hinders communication </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>Some exceptions, however, do exist </li></ul><ul><li>Some long words are very common and understood even by children </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. hippopotamus, automobile, bicycle etc </li></ul>
  15. 15. Use Technical Words with Caution <ul><li>All fields have some technical language </li></ul><ul><li>This can be very complex – e.g. Computers, Law, Finance, Medicine etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Useful when you communicate with people in your own field </li></ul><ul><li>But they do not communicate with outsiders. Use them with caution </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Use initials and acronyms cautiously - they may not be known to the reader. Spell out and define as required </li></ul><ul><li>Legal language has also worked its way into business writing. E.g. thereto, herewith, hereinafter etc </li></ul><ul><li>Replace legal language with plain words </li></ul>
  17. 17. Select Words with Right Strength <ul><li>Words have personalities. Select the stronger ones </li></ul><ul><li>To select words wisely, consider shades of difference in their meanings </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. Tycoon is stronger than the term ‘eminently successful businessman’; Mother is stronger than ‘female parent’ </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>Sometimes, weaker words serve your purpose best </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. – ‘Bill’ is stronger than ‘Statement’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Debt’ is stronger than ‘Obligation’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Die’ is stronger than ‘Passed away’ </li></ul><ul><li>In such cases it may be better to use the weaker terms </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>Verbs are the strongest words. Nouns are second </li></ul><ul><li>Adjectives & adverbs are weak words - they involve judgement </li></ul><ul><li>Use them sparingly </li></ul>
  20. 20. Use Concrete Language <ul><li>Use concrete words, i.e. specific words </li></ul><ul><li>They stand for things that exist in the real world. E.g. Chair, table, road etc </li></ul><ul><li>Abstract nouns have general meanings - should be avoided wherever possible – e.g. administration, negotiation etc </li></ul><ul><li>Concreteness = exactness : 53% loss instead of a major loss ; 95% attendance instead of good attendance, etc </li></ul>
  21. 21. Use the Active Voice <ul><li>As far as possible, use the active voice instead of passive voice </li></ul><ul><li>In active voice, the subject does the action. In passive voice, it receives the action </li></ul><ul><li>Active voice is stronger and shorter </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. The results were reported in our July 9th letter Vs We reported the results in our July 9th letter </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Passive voice also has a place – it is not incorrect. Is better when doer of the action is not important </li></ul><ul><li>Helps avoid accusing the receiver </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. The damage was caused by exposing the material to sunlight Vs It was damaged because you exposed it to sunlight </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>Passive is better when the performer is not known </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. During the past year, the equipment has been damaged several times </li></ul><ul><li>It is also better when the writer prefers not to name the performer </li></ul>
  24. 24. Avoid Camouflaged Words <ul><li>Avoid camouflaged words. Camouflage a verb by changing it to a noun form and then adding action words </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. – If ‘cancel’ becomes ‘cancellation’, you must add ‘to effect a cancellation’ in order to have action OR </li></ul><ul><li>To change ‘eliminate’ into the noun form ‘elimination’, you must add action words – e.g. was effected. ‘Elimination of the surplus was effected by the staff’ </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>Avoid camouflaged verbs by (1) writing concretely and (2) preferring active voice </li></ul><ul><li>To comply with these suggestions – </li></ul><ul><li>(1) make subjects persons or things; and </li></ul><ul><li>(2) write sentences in normal order. E.g. Instead of writing - consideration was given to…., write ‘we considered’ </li></ul>
  26. 26. Select Words for Precise Meaning <ul><li>Writing requires knowledge of the language </li></ul><ul><li>Study language and learn shades of difference in the meanings of similar words </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. Weary, tired, fagged out, exhausted – all refer to the same thing, but have different shades of meaning </li></ul>
  27. 27. <ul><li>Similarly… </li></ul><ul><li>Fired, dismissed, terminated, discharged refer to the same action, but have different shades of meaning </li></ul><ul><li>One should learn the meanings of other words </li></ul>
  28. 28. Use Correct Idiom <ul><li>Idiom - an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements </li></ul><ul><li>OR from the general grammatical rules of a language </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. kick the bucket ; hang one's head ; using the table round for the round table </li></ul><ul><li>Idiom is the way ideas are expressed in a language </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>E.g. What is the logic of the word ‘up’ in the sentence – look up her name in the directory? NONE </li></ul><ul><li>It is just a way of speaking or expressing </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Independent of’ is good idiomatic usage. ‘Independent from’ is not </li></ul><ul><li>Similarly, you ‘agree to’ a proposal, but you ‘agree with’ a person ! </li></ul><ul><li>There is little reason to some idioms, but violations offend the reader </li></ul>
  30. 30. Non-discriminatory Writing <ul><li>Avoid words that discriminate against sex, race, nationality, age or disability </li></ul><ul><li>Discriminatory words - Words that do not treat all people equally with respect </li></ul><ul><li>More specifically, words that refer negatively to groups of people </li></ul>
  31. 31. <ul><li>Words that are contrary to acceptable views of fair play and decency </li></ul><ul><li>We often use discriminatory words without bad intent </li></ul><ul><li>One should make conscious efforts to change this habit </li></ul>
  32. 32. Use Gender Neutral Words <ul><li>Avoid using the masculine pronouns (he / his / him) for both the sexes </li></ul><ul><li>This can be done by rewording the sentence, or by making the reference plural </li></ul><ul><li>Or by substituting with a neutral expression </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>Avoid words that suggest male dominance </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. manpower, man-made, chairman, policeman, cameraman </li></ul><ul><li>However, not all male sounding words are sexist or discriminatory </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. manufacture, management, manipulate </li></ul>
  34. 34. <ul><li>Avoid expressions that identify gender in a work role </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. Lady Doctor, Authoress, Sculptress, Poetess </li></ul><ul><li>Use normal words that identify these work roles – Doctor, Author, Sculptor, Poet </li></ul><ul><li>Similarly, using terms such as Male Nurse etc should be avoided </li></ul>
  35. 35. Avoid Words that Stereotype by Age <ul><li>Words that label people as old or young can arouse negative reactions </li></ul><ul><li>Be sensitive with terms like mature, elderly, youngster, juvenile etc </li></ul><ul><li>Be fair. Present both – the young & the old – fairly and objectively when you write </li></ul>
  36. 36. Avoid Words that Typecast Those with Disabilities <ul><li>The Disabled are sensitive to discriminatory words that describe their disabilities </li></ul><ul><li>Do not stereotype them </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid derogatory labels and apologetic or patronising behaviour </li></ul>
  37. 37. <ul><li>E.g. Instead of using deaf and dumb, use deaf </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid slang terms like fits, spells, attacks; use seizures, epilepsy; or other objective terms </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid degrading terms like crippled, retarded etc </li></ul><ul><li>Develop a non-biased attitude – show it thorough carefully chosen words </li></ul>
  38. 38. Emphasis on Short Sentences <ul><li>Short sentences communicate better due to mind limitations </li></ul><ul><li>It means about 16-18 words for middle level readers </li></ul><ul><li>However, excessive use of short sentences is also bad – it suggests primer simplicity </li></ul><ul><li>Use moderately long sentences occasionally </li></ul>
  39. 39. <ul><li>Short sentences are achieved in two ways – </li></ul><ul><li>1. Limiting Content </li></ul><ul><li>Mentally selecting thought units and making separate sentences of most of them </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes, you should combine thoughts into one sentence, but only when you have good reason – </li></ul><ul><li>When thoughts are closely related, or when you want to de-emphasise content </li></ul>
  40. 40. <ul><li>Avoid overdoing this suggestion. Too many short sentences give a choppy effect </li></ul><ul><li>2. Economising on Words </li></ul><ul><li>Seek shorter ways of saying things </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid cluttering phrases. Substitute shorter expressions. </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. In the event payment is not made, the line will be disconnected. Substitute ‘In the event’ with ‘If’ </li></ul>
  41. 42. QUESTIONS ?
  42. 43. Acknowledgements: This presentation is based on excerpts from the book &quot;Basic Business Communication&quot; by R V Lesikar & M E Flatley.