Test Your Writing Acumen
Sentences come in many varieties, including declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamatory, and conditional. See if you can determine the function of each of the following sentences. (Note that there is no end punctuation to help you.)
- Please proofread that document so we can send it out
- We’ll send out only a proofread document
- After Will proofreads the document, we can send it out
- This document is completely unacceptable
- Did you proofread the document before you sent it out
- If you’ll proofread the document now, we can send it out before five o’clock
- Did you notice that the building’s parking spaces have been redrawn smaller
- I would like to see us double our office space by this time next year
- Please submit all expense reports by Friday
- Everyone must get out of the building immediately
- Unless we can reduce the cost estimate, we’ll lose that job
- In which file did Sophia enter the Emerson data
- Sean suggested we replace the windows with more efficient ones
- Someone dial 911
- Check the facts and figures before sending out the estimate
You can find answers at the end of this newsletter.
The Communication Process
Considering how important communication is, how does it so often go awry, with meaning muddled or mixed, sometimes completely lost or misinterpreted? A good way to avoid those problems is to pay close attention to the communication process. Once you understand that process, you can better shape your messages for optimum understanding.
The most basic model for communication includes the following steps:
The sender transmits a message via a specific medium to the receiver, who decodes the message, considering its context, and provides feedback.
The process may seem simple, but many types of “noise” can interfere with communication. Let’s examine each step and the noise that can interfere, causing miscommunication.
- Sender—the person who originates the message
Possible noise: unclear purpose, unclear sense of receiver, lack of knowledge about the topic
Result: If the sender fails to send a clear, complete message, the receiver will have difficulty understanding.
- Message—the content encoded by the sender and decoded by the receiver
Possible noise: confusing or unclear main point, ambiguous wording, or confusing structure
Result: If the message itself is incomplete or poorly constructed, communication will break down.
- Medium—the channel through which the message is sent
Possible noise: received too late, medium doesn’t suit the message, medium isn’t familiar to the receiver, medium lacks privacy
Result: If the medium is not appropriate for the message, the receiver may miss the message or view the sender unfavorably.
- Receiver—the person who receives the message
Possible noise: wrong receiver, necessary information missing, receiver unfamiliar with the purpose or the medium
Result: The message will not achieve its desired outcome.
- Decoding—the way in which the receiver internalizes the message
Possible noise: inappropriate language, assumptions made with no explanation, receiver unfamiliar with the subject or sender
Result: The message will not be clearly understood.
- Context—the background situation of the message
Possible noise: not timely, context assumed rather than stated, receiver unfamiliar with the context
Result: The exact meaning of the message may be missed, or time may be wasted filling in needed details.
- Feedback—the receiver’s response to the sender; in effect, a new message relating to the original one
Possible noise: all of the above
Result: More wasted time and miscommunication.
As you can see, each element in the communication process requires clarity, completeness, and timeliness. To produce effective messages, take time to craft them with these elements in mind.
You can find more on the communication process beginning on page 137 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace.
A little courtesy goes a long way in a training session. If you are handling the training, remember to treat the trainees as the valued employees they are. Be on time for the sessions, dress professionally, and arrive prepared. Make an effort to remember (and use) names whenever possible to create a friendlier atmosphere. Turn off your cell phone, and ask everyone else to do the same, explaining that you want to focus on them. If you make an error in your presentation, acknowledge it, apologize for it, correct it, and move on. All of these commonsense courtesies will have a positive impact on your trainees and prepare them for their own communication tasks.
That Little Extra
When writing to someone with a name that isn’t gender specific, do not guess at a title such as Mr. or Ms. Instead, form a genderless greeting by using the person’s professional title or position (“Dear HR Manager,” “Dear Dr. Brown,” “Dear Professor Brown”). Another way to handle the situation is to use the person’s full name (“Dear Terry Brown”). If the receiver’s gender is crucial to your message, consider calling the person’s company for the information or asking your coworkers if they know the person.
On a related note, don’t use just first names in a salutation (“Dear Lee,” “Dear Jean”) unless you and the receiver are personally acquainted.
September Writers' Forum Topic
Here’s your chance to tell us how your work environment operates. Send us your responses to the forum question below, and we’ll print the most interesting in our eTips Mid-Month Mini.
What type of writing software do you find most useful in your business writing?
Email your response to email@example.com. Write “September Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.
Answers to This Month’s Quiz
- Please proofread that document so we can send it out. (Imperative)
- We’ll send out only a proofread document. (Declarative)
- After Will proofreads the document, we can send it out. (Conditional)
- This document is completely unacceptable! (Exclamatory)
- Did you proofread the document before you sent it out? (Interrogative)
- If you’ll proofread the document now, we can send it out before five o’clock. (Conditional)
- Did you notice that the building’s parking spaces have been redrawn smaller? (Interrogative)
- I would like to see us double our office space by this time next year. (Declarative)
- Please submit all expense reports by Friday. (Imperative)
- Everyone must get out of the building immediately! (Exclamatory)
- Unless we can reduce the cost estimate, we’ll lose that job. (Conditional)
- In which file did Sophia enter the Emerson data? (Interrogative)
- Sean suggested we replace the windows with more efficient ones. (Declarative)
- Someone call 911! (Exclamatory)
- Check the facts and figures before sending out the estimate. (Imperative)
Note that even an imperative sentence can be polite. Words like “please” and “thank you” will usually have a positive effect on your communications. On occasion, using a different kind of sentence may also serve to improve the tone of your message.
We Want to Hear from You!
This is your chance to be part of the UpWrite Press newsletters and blogs. What writing topics do you want to hear about? Have you any favorite communications tips you’d like to share? What words do you constantly mix up? Send us your ideas and you could see your name in Writing eTips or the Mid-Month Mini.
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Write for Work is a practical guide to writing and communicating in the workplace. It's designed for students in 1- and 2-year degree programs or school-to-work programs. This flexible work-text provides extra support for students who’ve struggled with writing in the past.
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