Having discussed “touchy situations” in the last post, I have to admit that such situations—and many others—are often better dealt with face to face than in writing. Researchers estimate that people form 55 percent of overall impressions from visual cues, 38 percent from tones of voice, and a scanty 7 percent from actual words used. So when writing, we have to work more than ten times as hard to get a point across.
Still, there are times when writing is necessary—to address larger segments of the public than can be met with directly, or to communicate on subjects you find so touchy that you doubt your ability to maintain a professional demeanor. One advantage of the written word is that it lets you take things back before they get anyplace where they might do damage. (Also, if you feel like communicating something at 4 a.m. without getting dressed, no one need know.)
To compensate for being deprived of visual and voice cues:
Be certain to include all essential facts—and to get them straight. Outside of instant messaging, writing makes quick clarification on confusing points impossible. Worse yet is the message that clearly communicates wrong information—“off by one digit” can literally mean “off by a mile” when sending important addresses.
Choose strong, descriptive words. “Forty-story building” is easier to visualize than “skyscraper”; “customers seeking refunds” paints a clearer picture than “dissatisfied customers.”
Don’t, however, use “loaded language.” Calling people names always reflects badly on you—even when the message’s recipient isn’t your target.
If what you’re writing is intended or likely to have a significant impact, let the message “cool” for at least one full day before editing and sending it. Not only is the second draft always better than the first, longer gaps between the two equal greater improvement.
Don’t expect anyone to automatically realize you’re “just joking.” The reader won’t see the grin on your face or hear the light tone of your voice. Before sending a message, consider it at face value; the recipient definitely will.
Don’t rely on emoticons or acronyms to clarify your intent, either. It looks overly casual for most business communications; it may cause “translation problems” between plain text and graphics; it can be confusing (not everyone knows that “LOL” means “Laughing Out Loud”); and, like expressing anger with generic profanities, it’s frequently the lazy way out of looking for appropriate words.
Consider your recipient. Slang and clichés are fine with family or close friends, but a bad idea with anyone you want to impress professionally.
Don’t get so formal as to be stuffy. Hardly anyone writes “I will not” for “I won’t” anymore. You do want it to be obvious that your message was written by a human being!
Making a good impression takes work, but it’s worth it. A little careful attention to detail goes a long way, even when you have only words to work with.
To help business owners promote themselves as experts in their fields, Spread the Word Commercial Writing is offering a special of one free e-article to catch your ideal client’s interest. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.