The rise of social media and other forms of electronic media has radically changed the way that people communicate on an every day basis. It is not just the young who text each other using the abbreviated “language of texting”, Facebook has become a mainstream way to communicate, Twitter and LinkedIn are prolific and certainly email has unseated the traditional letter as the preferred way to communicate.
Along the way, the “art of writing” has become a casualty, and yet I believe that in business there is still an expectation that communication should be professional, sentences constructed properly, spelling checked and thoughts presented in a clear and concise way. That can’t be achieved if you are unable to write a good “letter”. All too often I see jumbled thoughts, poor grammar and spelling errors … which I feel should be rare in business communication.
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” … Nathaniel Hawthorne.
I don’t claim to be a expert, but I believe I could share a few tips for those interested in actually writing in a way that is clear, professional and delivers the messages that you want to deliver.
1. Get very clear in your own mind what message(s) you are trying to convey. Write them down … and separate them, so messages don’t get mixed up. If you have several messages to deliver then make a call about whether they should all be in one communication, or should there be more than one “letter”. If you expect some action from the letter then be clear about that too … a rant, or a bunch of facts without a “call to action” is not very productive.
2. Now organise the structure of your “letter” (email) … it should have an introduction with the main message, a separate section (paragraph perhaps) for each sub-message and a summary paragraph that ties it all together. (Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them … which is the same structure for presentations). If I am writing a tough letter/email then I will often “map it out” on paper first … I start with the main section, then add an introduction and a summary.
3. If it is an emotional subject then be VERY careful to take the emotion out of your writing … it should be very factual.
4. Keep it brief … most people don’t read long “missives” and the more you “drone on” the less impact your message will have.
5. For the tough, or more important, correspondence get someone else to read it before you send it … they can vet it to ensure it is clear, professional and “hangs together” in addition to spotting typos.
I am a fan of the modern communication tools, and with friends and close colleagues I will use the less formal way of writing, but it can be dangerous because the less you practice your writing (like anything) the more it deteriorates.
So … embrace the new technologies, BUT don’t forget how to write a good letter!
“The Reason one writes isn’t the fact that he wants to say something. He writes becasue he has something to say.” … F. Scott Fitzgerald
Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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