Written Communication Skills
Simply put, written communication refers to the conveying of a message through written symbols.
It differs from verbal communication in that it is words noted down rather than spoken. The nature of written communication means that you can consciously choose and edit words to best get your point across.
Whenever two people exchange printed words – whether a handcrafted letter, a short text message or a brief email – they are engaging in written communication.
There are many advantages of written communication that make it the most common and effective mode of business interaction.
It is used across every organization, regardless of environment, and can take many forms from emails to employee manuals.
In business, there are thought to be four types of written communication:
The myriad benefits of written communication make it a more effective option than verbal communication in many instances.
First, it allows the sender to carefully craft a message to reach a large number of people. While speaking from the heart without a script can seem personal and sincere, it can also run the risk of well-intended words being misconstrued.
Removing the verbal aspect helps to mitigate this and at the same time creates a physical or virtual paper trail that can be referred back to in the future. This permanent record of information allows businesses to access data quickly, often years later.
It is also the best choice of communication when transmitting lengthy or complex information, as it allows for thorough elaboration in a way that verbal interaction cannot.
Written communications also define a brand by portraying them with their desired elements.
As written communication is used across such a wide spectrum, learning and developing effective writing skills is invaluable. Crafting quality written communication is much more than putting words on a page; it is a way to express how you feel, raise a call to action and gain the trust of others.
The strength of written communication lies in the effectiveness of your message. It is crucial that you choose the correct words, sentence structure and paragraph cohesion.
People tend to rely more on written content, so you hold a powerful tool in your hands!
The main types of written communication include:
- Emails – Electronic mail has become a very popular method of communication within businesses due to its rapid delivery, ease of use and ability to reach large audiences effortlessly. Emails should be succinct to grab attention, so make use of bullet points and numbered lists.
- Letters – One of the most important written communication formats, letters are a medium that has stood the test of time. They should use simple language with impeccable spelling and grammar.
- Contracts – They detail the legally binding undertakings of parties. It is important that contracts are drafted with a focus on detail and clarity.
- Briefs – As the name suggests, this form of communication should be brief. These forms of text are usually prepared to give information to another person ahead of a meeting.
- Memos – These short letters are usually used to communicate with the employees of the same organization. They should only contain information that is absolutely necessary to ensure people take away the key facts.
- Meeting agendas – Meeting agendas are circulated prior to a gathering to inform attendees of the planned discussion topics. They should be detailed enough to make the reader aware of what will happen, but avoid an overload of unnecessary information.
- Bulletins – A bulletin is a notice posted in a communal area to inform employees of emergencies and important matters. Its main purpose is to relay urgent information, so this communication must be short and succinct.
- Announcements – People will look for the highlights in an announcement communication, so use font features such as bold text and underlining to draw attention to the most important parts.
We've looked at the main types of written communication and how they differ from verbal communication.
Now we will go over the top 10 skills required to create effective written communications. By following our steps, you can develop and strengthen your skills to become an expert at engaging others through the power of text.
Different types of written communication suit different purposes. If your task is to convey information in whichever format you think best, research the advantages of each one to decide which best suits your message.
Once you have decided on a type, or if you have been asked to write in a particular format, clarify what you want to happen as a result of your written communication.
Having a clear goal in mind will help keep your writing concise. Do you need the reader to respond, take action or simply to be aware of important information?
Whatever your goal, define it as quickly as possible at the beginning of your message. Leading with the key point will ensure that skim readers are able to understand what is required of them.
Written communication can be much more forgiving than its verbal counterpart. You have time to carefully choose the right phrases to convey your message.
While you may feel that now is your chance to dazzle your audience with long words and heartfelt confessions, remember to keep your writing clear.
Writing with clarity will help your reader understand what you are saying and form any questions to ask for further clarification. You can write clearly by using simple language and sticking to concrete, specific information.
Be harsh in your edits and leave out anything that detracts from the point you are making.
In whichever format you are using, explaining your point concisely is crucial.
While media such as emails and letters allow for a longer message than briefs and memos, you should still be careful to keep your communication succinct.
Include only need-to-know information. If you use too many words to tell the audience what they need to know, they are likely to lose interest and stop reading.
After you have written your first draft, read through and check if every single sentence meets the following criteria:
- Is the goal of the message clear and concrete?
- Is this detail necessary for the reader to understand the goal of my message?
- Is this sentence written as simply and directly as possible?
If the answer to any of these is anything other than yes, make changes.
This is a very important skill to develop, especially if you are crafting official communications with an important message.
Once you have a first draft, carefully read through your text – preferably printed, as studies show that reading ink on paper is more effective for proofing than on screen – and highlight any errors, making notes of what to amend.
Achieving a perfect understanding of spelling and grammar comes down to practice. Once you have done this process a few times, you will have a much better grasp and your writing will improve.
While you are learning, remember that spellcheck is your best friend.
The style of your communication is likely to depend heavily on your intended audience. Are you writing a brief to a friend or drawing up a legal contract?
Considering who you are communicating to before you start writing will allow you to begin on the right track.
You should think about which tone, language and format is most appropriate for the communication medium you are using. Writing with empathy will engage your reader and show them that you care.
Jargon is needlessly complicated language that is used to impress rather than inform. It is different from technical language, which is sometimes necessary to explain your point.
If you consider your tone and audience, you can impress through plain English without the need for superfluous words. If you need to reference abbreviations or acronyms, make sure you explain their meaning at the first mention.
Not only does jargon confuse the reader, but it also makes your writing seem insincere and ill-informed.
A study titled 'The Impact of Linguistic Concreteness' found that "content was judged as truer when written in concrete language than when written in abstract language". Remember that less is more and step away from the thesaurus.
There may be instances where you need to refer to previous meetings to make a point about what is happening in the present.
If you do this, ensure that you explain the relevance of the previous meeting.
The tone of written communications refers to the ‘voice’ of your words. In business writing, you should employ a professional tone with varying degrees of friendliness and formality.
It is important that you strike the right tone in your communications, no matter the type you are using.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are you addressing?
- Can you speak casually or should you use a more formal tone?
- What are you asking for in your message?
- What are the key takeaways you want the reader to get from your message?
In some cases, you may feel it is best to find a balance between a professional and friendly tone. A carefully placed, well-wishing salutation can engage your reader and add a personal touch to your communications.
Getting the tone right will strengthen your communication and invoke the response you need.
Depending on the type of communication, you will need to use different formats and structures.
For longer texts, such as meeting agendas or reports, it can be helpful to create an outline before you start writing the information.
Organize your thoughts and determine the order in which information should appear. Writing in a logical order is a subtle but key skill to master to assist your reader in obtaining the information they need.
Once you have proofread your writing to check for any spelling and grammar errors, you should take a deeper look at the tone and structure of your communication.
This is the time to be honest with yourself and ask questions about the clarity and efficiency of your work:
- How does the writing flow?
- Does it make sense when read out loud?
- Are there too many unnecessary details?
- Are there any missing details that are needed to understand the main point?
- Is it written in a simple and direct style?
Once you have assessed these questions and made any changes, put the draft to one side and work on something else. Then, go back to it and ask yourself those questions again with fresh eyes to spot any unnecessary details.
You could also ask a colleague – or, even better, a friend or family member who is unfamiliar with the context (as long as the information isn't sensitive or confidential) – to read over the draft and provide feedback.
Written communication is a mainstay of almost every work environment. It is a powerful tool that can be used to share information with a huge number of people in a matter of minutes.
The way you write a piece of communication is very important. It has the potential to engage and persuade employees and external stakeholders.
Whether you are required to produce written communications at work every day, or much less frequently, learning these abilities can enrich your life in general.
Written communication skills, such as communicating concisely and succinctly, and using the right tone, can transfer outside of the workplace. They are strong qualities that can help you get what you want in all areas of your life.