Tag Archives: audience

5 Reasons Written Communication Skills are Crucial to Your Career Reputation

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

What you write directly affects your reputation.  Although this statement seems pretty obvious, you would be surprised how many people think they can somehow get away with ineffective communication just because they’re writing and not speaking.

Working in the corporate world for the first 8 years of my professional career taught me a few things about communication.  One of those lessons is that people seem to become more brave and less careful when they communicate through writing than when they talk on the phone or face to face.

I would argue that effective written communication has more of an impact on your professional image in this day and age than verbal communication does for the following 5 reasons:

  1. Digital media is permanent; it can’t be “taken back.”  In the age of e-mails, text messaging, and “tweets” as the new tools for communicating important thoughts and ideas, people have become lazy.  They feel like they aren’t held directly accountable on the spot for what they say because they’re interacting with a computer rather than another human being.  How many of you have typed up an “angry email” in a fit of rage when you were completely frustrated by a work situation?  I bet ten minutes later you regretted sending that message.  But with the new digital age, taking back what we say is impossible.  What we write becomes even more important because it can essentially be preserved for years, which brings me to the second reason written communication skills are more crucial than verbal…

  2. Body language isn’t apparent through an email.  When you email a colleague, client, or your boss, even if you think you’re being cute and witty, that person may not take what you write with the same humor that you wrote it with.  I’ve seen it many times.  Someone writes a comment to a co-worker thinking it’s a funny, sarcastic way to end an email and World War III erupts in the office.  When you write your business thoughts, you have to be extremely careful not to try to insert wit, humor, or sarcasm.  These are qualities that can be appreciated in verbal interaction through body language and voice intonation, but as of yet, we don’t have a way to convey these emotions through emails and text messages (especially since emoticons and text-speak like LOL and BTW aren’t appropriate in the business world).

  3. Most first impressions are made through written communication.  When we apply for jobs, the first form of communication we have with our potential employer is through our resume and cover letter.  If we don’t make the right impression through these documents, we can forget about an interview, let alone getting a job.  The words we choose and how well we convey our thoughts and ideas is crucial to perspective employers and to moving up in the company we’re currently with.  If you can’t communicate effectively in your resume and cover letter, then chances are you won’t advance in your career.  If you need help making the “write impression” with your resume contact me for a free quote.

  4. Written communication is more difficult than verbal communication.  When you meet with a client, colleague, or boss, you have the ability to interact back and forth and to ask one another questions to clarify statements you make.  While this is still possible through written communication, it can become tedious and time-consuming.  With that being said, when you initially send a written communication to someone, it’s imperative that your writing to be concise, comprehensive, and clear.  People have a tendency to write in code, that is, they don’t write what they mean to say.  Written communication can make people turn into clumsy communicators, trying to use large words to impress their audience.  Instead they end up looking stupid because the audience understands the communication would never be used in a verbal conversation.

  5. Written communication has a larger audience.  The one thing you’ll always hear me preach to my clients is that “audience is king.”  Everything you write should be tailored to your audience’s specific needs.  When you speak to a group of individuals, narrowing down your audience is easier than when you write.  When you are speaking, your audience is directly in front of you.   You are able to take into account age, ethnicity, and usually corporate status (ie is this a CEO or a mail delivery clerk?).  When you write, though, you cannot tangibly see your audience in front of you.  And this is where most people make the mistake of thinking that because they can’t see their audience, they don’t have to tailor their writing to any particular demographic.   Since your communication has the potential to be spread to more than one audience, it becomes crucial to recognize all of the possible individuals who may read your communication.  If you use large words you may lose some members of your audience.  If you write with an informal tone, you could offend your superiors.  All of these aspects can be taken into account when verbally communicating without much effort.  Written communication is challenging in this aspect because without seeing your audience, you must be aware of any potential viewers of your piece.  You must always take into account that whoever reads what you write has the potential of “forwarding” what you wrote to another audience (a secondary audience or even a third group).

With the evolution of business communication shifting from face-to-face interaction to emails, LinkedIn accounts, and text messages, understanding the importance of written communication is crucial.  So the next time you sit down to write an email to a colleague, client, or superior, remember the 5 tips above.  Would you say what you write to your boss face to face?  If not, you may want to rethink what you wrote.

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5 Reasons Format Matters In Your Writing

By:  Stacey J. Haseleu

usability 3

This is a picture of the A/C controls in David Cole’s car.  In his article entitled “Proximity in Design: Why I Can’t Use My Car’s A/C” he outlines how his daily commute to and from work is filled with frustrating moments of artctic blasts  or desert-like heat blowing “his beard off,” as he puts it.

Cole goes on to attribute  the drastic climate changes in his car to the proximity of the A/C controls on his dashboard.  He can’t afford to take his eyes off the road to find the control he’s looking for, and for some reason, the controls never seem to be where they should be.  He blames this on poor proximity.

There are several usability heuristics in the design principle world, and proximity is one of them.  The proximity heuristic suggests that similar objects should be placed closer together.  Cognitively, the human brain functions by discerning patterns and associating specific functions that are similar to one another.

So in Cole’s case, the “temperature” dial  is separate from the “A/C” dial which causes him to turn up the fan rather than cool down the temperature in his car.  As you can see in the figure above, in order to cool down his car, Cole would need to hit the A/C button furtherest to the right, then use the dial furtherest to the left to change the temperature to “cool.”

Although Cole has driven this vehicle for many years, his brain is somehow wired to hit the A/C button and turn the same control to cool down the temperature.  His brain is wired with the proximity heuristic.

Don’t look confused.  This article is about writing and format for writing, but I had to tell you the story about David Cole and his car to make my point.  If car controls, machines, and computers use the heuristics of usability, shouldn’t writing also use these same principles so that it’s easier for us to cognitively digest?  I’d say so… and that’s why formatting your content is just as important as making sure the content you write is high quality.

Without further ado, here are the top 5 reasons formatting matters when you write:

  1. Your audience is “King” — This is  Nancy Duarte’s statement in her “5 Rules for Presentations;” but it applies to writing too.  If your writing doesn’t resonate with your audience then your piece failed.  I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.  Your writing is only successfull if it affects your audience in some way.  With this in mind, if your audience is anything like David Cole (or any other human being), then the proximity heuristic is important.  How you organize your information will make it easier (or harder) on your audience.  If you use proper formatting, then you are cognitively feeding your audience little treats.

  2. Organization/Flow — How many people have read a user’s manual that makes them flip back and forth between multiple pages to find out how to complete a simple task?  Why isn’t this information put closer together?  Why didn’t the writer employ the usability heuristic of proximity?  When you write, if you don’t use proper formatting (ie headings, subheadings, bullet points) then the flow of your document suffers.  If the flow of your document suffers, you’ll find your audience skipping back and forth, frustrated that they can’t find the information they want to know.

  3. Aesthetic Appeal — Who wants to read boring, fifteen-sentence-long paragraphs?  If you were tasked with the responsibility of writing a one-page list of instructions teaching someone how to brush their teeth, would you write it in all paragraphs?  If you answered “yes” to that question, please keep reading this article, then go back and re-read it again.  No one wants to read a narrative on how to brush your teeth.  People want to be able to see the specific steps for brushing your teeth.  People want to view a document that looks like this.

  4. Usability — OK, so this ties back in to your audience.  You want your writing to be used, not just read and discarded.  If you write a piece and the length starts to drag on beyond 3 pages, you might want to consider adding some formatting.  Headers and subheaders give a document easy reference-ability (yes, I made that word up).  Instead of having to read through each paragraph to find the information needed, someone can easily reference specific points you make if you add headings and subheadings.  If you want to get real fancy, add a table of contents.  I know, I just blew your mind!

  5. Because it’s a rule — I’m not joking.  MLA, APA, and just about every other style of writing gives you guidelines on how to format a document, so why wouldn’t you follow them?  These formats were established because they make the documents you write easier to read and easier to reference.  So use these guidelines.  Follow them. Period.

You could, of course, choose not to format your writing.  But then you’ll run the risk of every one of your audience members turning into a David Cole.  Keep your readers’ beards on.  Format your writing.

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