Written communications drive business and shape relationships with colleagues and external contacts. From emails and reports to instant messages on collaboration platforms and presentations, writing style and substance not only influence productivity, but also what recipients think about your professionalism, competence, credibility and more. Weak, vague, bloated or rushed communications can skew the message focus and create unnecessary confusion whereas strong writing gets things done.
Follow these tips to ensure your writing is clear and elicits timely responses, moves projects forward and strengthens your reputation.
1. Cut out qualifiers and fillers
‘Hey, sorry to bug you, but I was just wondering if you had a chance to review that proposal yet?’ Leading with this conveys that you have a question, but are concerned about how the person will react to you asking it. Don’t assume you’re a bother when simply conducting business! If you have a legitimate question, there’s no need to surrender your authority or apologize for it. Instead, inquire plainly: ‘Have you reviewed the proposal?’
Don’t waste time softening or over-explaining a message to make it more palatable to others, especially if they owe you a reply and you have to follow up to obtain it. Be polite, confident and professional in communications without diminishing your position.
2. Stop Dancing Around The Topic – Get Specific
Cutting fluff isn’t the only way to optimize communications. Be sure to state what you’re really asking, so be direct and say what you mean. At face value, ‘Have you reviewed the proposal,’ is asking for a yes or no response, when the true desired response is reader feedback. Specificity helps both you and the recipient know what to do next: ‘Please let me know your thoughts about sections B and C of the proposal.’
This communicates exactly what information you need, eliminating unnecessary back and forth and driving efficiency. Do you need an acknowledgement, approval or feedback? Are you waiting on this response to proceed? Are others involved in the conversation? Clarify what you’re requesting.
3. Include Deadlines And Timeframes
In any transactional communication, specify not only what you need, but when you need it. This is critical for keeping things moving. A clear and polite request may cover more ground than a question alone: ‘Please let me know your thoughts about sections B and C of the proposal before end of day Thursday, so we can send it back to the client Friday morning.’ Relevant details about timing enable productivity and expediency.
Of course, endeavor to be considerate of others’ schedules when setting deadlines and leave room for reasonable and realistic turnaround time whenever possible.
4. Improve Clarity With Formatting
Large blocks of text, like lengthy paragraphs in an email, may cause readers to miss specific questions or overlook key elements. Consider using bullets and other formatting elements to cover multiple topics and highlight action items. Well-organized writing reflects positively on you, highlighting your ability to think things through, consider your audience and manage projects effectively.
5. Pause and Review Before Sending
A single, well-composed message that covers all relevant bases is more useful and appreciated than flooding someone’s inbox or chat channel with a string of separate messages and questions. The latter looks rushed and disorganized – not to mention, several notifications in quick succession can annoy and disrupt recipients. Review messages for completeness before hitting send to save time and prevent frustration.
Communications habits have long been an important part of a strong personal brand. When writing, whatever unique stylistic preferences you develop or apply for particular recipients, always begin with a solid foundation of confident, clear and concise practices to drive productive interactions and make positive impressions with all contacts.