Have you ever written an email, report, proposal, or business letter and felt it perfectly conveyed your message only to discover it was not received or interpreted the way you intended?
Miscommunications mostly surface at the receiving end. That does not mean the reader is necessarily at fault. It means the communication process has broken down. The breakdown only becomes evident after the message has been received. Thus, it is up to the writer to ensure his or her message is complete and clear to the reader.
Contributing to the breakdown, writers often have one method or style for a variety of written communications. They use the same method whether they are writing an email, a report, a proposal, or a business letter to a client or customer. In writing, “one size doesn’t fit all.”
To adapt your style appropriately to the various types of written communications, consider how each is similar and how they are different.
- All need to be clear.
- They should have no mistakes.
- They should make sense to the reader.
- They should not be too long.
- They should feel businesslike.
- Some need to be longer or shorter.
- Some are more formal while some are informal.
- Some are meant to be read by lots of people and some by just a few.
- Some take lots of planning while some need only a quick reply.
Knowing the similarities and differences of the various types of written communication are only part of the solution. Knowing the demographics of your readers will impact what and how you write. Your style and how you sequence your content may change depending on who is going to read your report or email. Some factors every writer should consider are seniority, level of technical expertise, department, and current knowledge of the topic.
Too much or too little information can affect the success of your communication. The level of detail can impact the length of your document. Thinking that more is better is not always true. Be careful of assuming what background knowledge the readers have.
Knowing what the reader will do with your report or email will influence the way you sequence your information. For example, defending a budget request versus giving an update on an ongoing project would probably be organized and sequenced quite differently.
To greatly reduce the chance for a miscommunication to occur, consider the following:
- The similarities and differences of the various types of written communications.
- Analyze the readers.
- Clearly define your purpose for writing.
- Determine and convey the intended outcome. What do you want the readers to know, do, feel, or believe?
- Use the appropriate style and tone based on your analysis of your readers and your purpose and outcome.
- Edit and proof your document for clarity of meaning.
For more information on eliminating miscommunications in your business writings, please check out our courses on Strategic Writing (links in lefthand navigation).