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Monday, April 30, 2018

Characteristics of Effective Written Communication

Having facilitated a number of training meetings, particularly in project management training and in graduate level project management classes, I often find that people fail to effectively communicate. When it comes to effective communication in writing, truly understanding the basics of the communication model is critical.

The communication model involves a sender passing information through a channel with the goal that that this is received and interpreted by the receiver. Now, right in that communication model explanation lies the important requirement of communication - It is not about what the sender planned to send but what the receiver interpreted from the message.

Consider, for instance, the difference between two messages that I heard from my Math teacher several years back while I was preparing to enter college. Both messages A and B have the same number of words in the same location except for the placement of the comma, which changes the entire meaning of the message. Although my Math teacher was teaching this to construct the right mathematical equation by placing the mathematical symbols correctly, he also communicated the powerful message of the importance of punctuations.

Message A: "Hang him not, leave him"
Message B: "Hang him, not leave him"

So, as we write anything, let us not read from what we wanted to communicate but read our thoughts on how the reader will interpret. When you are not present next to the reader to interpret the message, what areas will you focus on?

1. Use of correct "Grammar and Spelling" will be a simple critical building block. Even if you use a spell checker, proof-read as words like "their" and "there" will not be caught by spell-check utility unless you have advanced grammar checks also built in. Proof-reading will also help in ensuring the right use of the subject/verb agreement.

2. Say it concisely - Your message has to be concise and yet comprehensive. If I were to use my agile mindset here, if you were to remove all the words from your idea-tank and add only the required words, how many and what words will you add to ensure that you provide enough information concisely and yet provide the required context.

3. The coherent flow of ideas - Have you read your email or report after a day or attempted to read it from the bottom-up? Does the introduction properly give the required backdrop based on the conclusion drawn? Does every paragraph or bullet point really add-up.

4. Clarity in purpose - What's the action you want the reader to take? Is it informational, promotional, directional, or action-oriented? If you are not clear what you want the reader to do, how would you ensure that the reader can understand your written report? Focus on "who does what by when" as a minimum criterion and discuss the "why" for not only doing it but also the impact of not doing it. Depending upon the content of the written communication, you can add details about "How."

5. Control the flow of ideas - Sometimes, additional data or words will be required. If one example has proved the point, then, additional examples are irrelevant as the communication will take the reader's attention. If the example provided is inadequate, then, perhaps that's not the right example. Similar thoughts can expand to using diagrams to better support your ideas and using some legends and footnotes for the charts for better interpretation.

I have always found that these five simple areas are critical to communication! It not only puts the sender responsible for correct and complete delivery of the intended message but also put the onus to ensure correct interpretation of the delivered message. It also puts the recipient equally responsible for ensuring complete delivery of the full message and the acknowledge the correct interpretation of the message. It is great to see Project Management Institute (2017) acknowledge these 5Cs of effective written communication in its latest version of the Project Management Book of Knowledge.

Have you ever considered these 5C's of effective written communication?

Project Management Institute (2017). A guide to project management book of knowledge. 6th Edition. New Town Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

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