How to excel at written communication
3 minutes read
It’s the beginning of 2021 and it looks like remote work will stay with us for good. More people are doing their jobs from home. Big companies join the movement by becoming fully distributed. Video calls take place of face to face meetings. Over the desk chatter is replaced with written text. Collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack or Teams are experiencing a rapid spike in the number of customers. Just in the first few months of 2020 the user base of Microsoft Teams has more than doubled. Some people will love it, some will hate it. What’s clear is that not everyone was prepared for this transformation.
The ugly truth
Some people can’t write.
It’s a bit of a paradox. We acquire new skills, learn new frameworks and generally do whatever it takes to have the know-how vital for our jobs. Yet, it turns out that while online communication becomes crucial, the way we write messages to other people is based on our intuition. We often lack the ability to write in a clear and concise manner.
In this post I gathered a couple of simple rules that are based on my approach. After a few years of remote work I established a basic framework of writing clear and concise messages to my work colleagues. Thanks to these simple tips, I saved a lot of time and avoided many misunderstandings. Putting them in place will take a few seconds of your time. It can spare you minutes of additional explanations and unnecessary questions.
Don’t leave any space for being wrongly understood. Always assume the recipient does not know all the details. General rule of thumb - your statements should always be self-explanatory.
- Add all relevant details to prevent unnecessary questions
- Just contact Marc for more details - Do you mean Marc Meyers or Marc Johnson? - Marc Meyers of course - How can I reach him? - Just write him a message. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
This conversation could easily be avoided just by taking a few seconds more to scribble all the details in one sentence:
- Just contact Marc Meyers for details - his email is email@example.com
- Use full dates to avoid ambiguity
- Hey Sarah, I have to take next Thursday off
We can add more context to this information and make it understandable even if it will be reread in the future:
- Hey Sarah, I have to take next Thursday (4.03.2021) off
Clear your doubts
It never hurts to ask an accurate question. Don’t waste your time trying to guess.
Do I understand correctly that...phrase which helps to indicate your perception and quickly guide to any errors
- The info text is not clearly visible to the Users, please make it more readable. - Do I understand correctly that I should make the info text bigger (font size 14)? - No, just make it red and bold
- When dealing with complex tasks explain your thought process
- Hey John, I wanted to ask you about processing a new Invoice. The way I understand it is that we should gather all the payments, calculate the total amount and generate the PDF file. Is this approach correct?
Structure and prettify your message
Spend a few seconds more and make sure your message looks swell before sending it. In the world of online communication this is equivalent to voice intonation which is an essential aspect of any talk. Your recipients will love it, your clients will be astonished with your attention to detail and you will have an easier time rereading the message in the future.
- Use typography (bold, italic, font size) and other tools (quotes, code blocks) to make your message more readable
Which message is better?
Message #1: Hey Tim, you said that we should make sure that all relevant data is entered in the system. I have a question about the implementation of the addUser function. The results are stored in the develop database. Do we also have to create an Account or Company object at the same time? I think we could use this SQL query: SELECT Id, Account FROM User WHERE Name = :userName
Message #2: Hey Tim, you said:
We should make sure that all relevant data is entered in the system.
I have a question about the implementation of the
addUser function. The results are stored in the develop database. Do we also have to create an
Company object at the same time? I think we could use this SQL query:
SELECT Id, Account FROM User WHERE Name = :userName
- Make your grammar flawless
There’s no need to explain the importance of this point. Writing grammatically correct sentences is a must-do if we want to be perceived as professionals. Precise semantic in the written world is equivalent to dress code. If you want to blend in and don’t stand apart, make sure you have it right. Different tools can come at your help like online writing assistants or web browser add-ons.