Nine steps to effective communication
1. Plan what you want to say before you commit your thoughts to paper.
Sounds simple. Yet, how many times have you read something and thought, “What are they saying?” Chances are “they” didn’t stop and ﬁgure out what it was they wanted to say before attempting to put it into words.
To ﬁgure out what you want to say, ask yourself two questions:
- “What do I want the audience to know?”
- “What do I want them to do with the information?”
2. Know your audience.
Target your message to your audience. Is it going to parents, to students, to coworkers, or to all three? Can you use the same message for all three groups? Probably not. Do you have to tailor the message for each group? Most likely. Different audiences require different messages. The good news is that you can use a variation on your original theme.
3. Know what your audience wants and write to that.
Don’t tell them what YOU want. They don’t care. For example:
You want parents to come to an open house. Honestly, they don’t want to come, and deep down inside you know they don’t want to come. So, don’t tell them to come to your open house. Tell them where they can learn how to get reduced college tuition for their children, where they can get cool gifts, and when free stuff will be handed out. And by the way, it will be at the open house.
4. Tell your audience what to do with the information.
So they’ve gotten the information, now what? Tell them what they need to do with it - register, volunteer, pass it on, use it to create better publications, whatever - just let them know what it is they are to do now that they have the information.
5. Keep it simple. Keep it short.
The average American is exposed to 3,000 messages a day (that includes paid advertising, e-mails, letters, phone calls and general conversations). So keep your messages short and simple. Don’t get weighted down in educational jargon, acronyms or overly detailed explanations. Don’t use lengthy sentences when short, pithy ones will do. Don’t use qualiﬁers. You do not have to write 500 words. Get straight to the point.
Examples of qualiﬁers to avoid:
- In most instances
- It is likely
- In general
6. Write | Edit | Rewrite
Once and done doesn’t work for even the best of writers. Write it. Read it. Rewrite it. Reread it.
7. Let others read your work.
Before you send a document off to an unsuspecting public, give it to others to read (not to proof – we’ll get to that later), preferably to those who are unfamiliar with the subject matter. The human brain automatically ﬁlls in gaps in information if it has the data available to do so. Therefore, someone who is very familiar with the topic on which you are writing is not a good judge of its clarity. This is the one time when the more clueless, the better, applies. Someone who is clueless will not be able to ﬁll in the gaps and will be much more helpful in determining whether or not your message is clear.
After they’ve read it – quiz them.
- Ask them to summarize (in their own words) what they just read. Don’t ask if they understood what they read because they may only think they understood and mistakenly tell you “yes,” when they should be telling you: “I haven’t got a clue.”
- Ask what action they need to take now that they have read the document. Revise accordingly.
Always proofread your work. After you have proofread your work, proofread it again. Then give it to someone else to proofread. Always have at least one other person proof your work as you will tend to read what you think you wrote, whether or not that is what actually appears on the printed page. If it is a lengthy document, have several people proofread the document, and give them plenty of time to do so. Do not hand someone a critical document at 4:55 p.m. on Friday and ask for it to be proofed before they leave for the weekend. After you have made the necessary corrections. Proofread again. Click here [Link to 6.4] for more details on how to proofread.
9. Keep a reference guide handy.
No matter how good a writer you are, there will always be times when you need to look up a rule – if only to say “I told you so.” Remember, you don’t have to know all the answers, but you should know where to ﬁnd them.
The Chester County Intermediate Unit uses the Associated Press Stylebook and the Associated Press Guide to Punctuation as its reference guides. Copies of both of these publications may be obtained from the Communications Division.