Except for personal journals or diaries, most of our written communications are intended to be read by someone else.
We write to convey a message. How we write determines how well that message is conveyed. If the writing is not clear and on-point, the reader may miss the all-important message the writer had in mind. This is true of academic papers and business reports, as well as online content.
Know your audience
Effective written communication depends on the right language, style, and tone. The right language, style, and tone depend on the audience. Whether the audience "gets" your message depends on effective written communication. That's the communication circle.
It's not enough to just deliver your message. To achieve optimal effectiveness, the way the message is crafted needs to be targeted to suit the needs and expectations of the reader.
For example, a school principal has one message – a new early dismissal policy - to convey to both parents and teachers. These two audiences have different need-to-know perspectives and will act on the message in different ways. The same letter to both groups will likely not be effective. The principal's message may be the same, but how the message is conveyed must be targeted to suit the different needs of teachers and parents.
• Identify your reader
• Consider the message you need to deliver and the results you expect
• Weigh your reader's needs and expectations against what you need to say
• Use the right language, style, and tone that effectively meets your reader's needs and expectations,
as well as your own
• Follow the ABCs of good writing: Accurate, Brief, Clear
Internet Web site content must be particularly well written. This is because visitors who scan online text generally do not spend a great deal of time doing so. They expect to read the online content quickly, and then move on to other sites.
This poses a unique challenge to writers and editors: not only must content be engaging, but it must also be formatted to permit comprehension through this visual scanning. Using certain devices helps make scan-reading easier:
• short sentences organized in short paragraphs
• headers and sub-headers that clearly identify the subject
• bullet lists
• block quotes and pictures to break up the copy
Writing with a Purpose
Effective written communication does more than deliver a message. It conveys information – sometimes not written at all - about you or your organization that evokes a response. Writing that is readable, correct, and effective connects with your reader to:
• enhance your reputation
• increase your credibility
• influence opinion about you
• shape attitude about your topic
• persuade and elicit action
Now, imagine the damage poor writing and editing can inflict!
Spelling and grammatical errors can sabotage your communication goal, no matter how important your message may be.
Editing involves two complex, interwoven tasks. First, the text must be read and edited for the mechanics of writing – spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage. At the same time, the editor substitutes better vocabulary and eliminates repetitive words and phrases.*
The second, equally important, aspect of editing entails improving the inner logic and flow of the written material. During this step of editing, the editor improves the readability of the written material by inserting transition sentences, reordering sentences, paragraphs, or whole sections, and making sure that ideas flow logically from the introduction into the text body into the conclusion.
All material written for presentation – on paper or online - should be carefully proofread and edited. Doing so guarantees the content is clear, logical, and free of errors. If you cannot do it yourself, using a professional editing service is a good solution, to ensure your written material is readable, correct, and effectively presented.
*The exception is deliberately repeating certain key terms in text written for Web sites. As part of the search engine optimization (SEO) process, repeating key words improves chances that your Web page ranks higher in search results for those key words.