You can create enduring relationships with your readers when you adhere to these tenets
To be most effective, your communication must focus on the needs of your audience. When you write, understand your audience, and make sure they will receive and act on the information in the manner you intended. Toward this end, we continue our discussion of the ten tenets of effective communication, focusing on the next four tenets:
Accurate. Get your facts straight. Even the slightest inaccuracy subjugates believability and can bring the contents of an entire document into question.
Inaccuracies can annoy and perplex an audience, especially when they know otherwise. And keep your own biases at bay when citing facts; remain objective. Compelling information presented accurately can still raise eyebrows; there is no need to overstate.
An occasional misstated fact can be tolerated, but attention to detail in this all important area is well worth the effort. The little bit of extra research that corrects a distortion goes a long way toward creating authoritative communication.
In a presentation, I once used the quote “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut”, which had been attributed to author Robert Newton Peck. When I called him to verify this attribution, Mr Peck set the record straight. He told me, “Samuel Johnson said that.”
Accuracy is ethical.
Comprehensive. Thorough communication answers all questions, provides all the necessary information in sufficient detail, and enables your audience to assess and act with confidence.
Oftentimes, being comprehensive means describing background information so that your audience has a foundation on which to consider the heart of your communication. Don’t make assumptions about what an audience knows or about their background. An audience must be able to paint the entire picture of your message, and it’s your job to give them the tools to paint that picture. A complete, self-contained explanation and discussion enables your audience to proceed safely, to be efficient with their time, and effective with their efforts.
History also benefits from comprehensiveness. Consider how important detailed minutes from crucial meetings can be, especially minutes from Board of Directors’ meetings.
Accessible. There is just too much to read—emails, memos, reports, blogs, web links, articles, magazines, books—it can all be so overwhelming. With this plethora of information, readers skim, diving in only when deemed important, interesting, or useful. Few read sequentially, from beginning to end. Besides, attention spans are short. Make the most of these methods by helping your reader easily access what you say in your writing.
Unless a simple word or two will suffice, write descriptive titles and headings using phrases or sentences. This separates your document into small, independent sections that are easily digestible. A reader should be able to skim your headings and get the essence of a document.
For longer documents, don’t force your reader to flip or scroll unnecessarily—create a table of contents or summary links at the beginning. Avoid useless links as well.
Concise. What we choose to do with our time is the essence of who we are. We are all busy. With the myriad possibilities, choosing what we do with our time can be a significant challenge.
So, to help a reader select your document to read, it must be concise and to the point. Tell people up front what they are about to read and how they can benefit. For example, this position paper adheres to this tenet in its two-line heading.
Write simply. Convey a lot of information economically. Excise unnecessary phrases. Replace wordiness with short words. Eliminate tangential information. Use simple grammatical forms. A good edit shortens a document by up to 20 percent: 1,000 words down to 800.
Mark Twain once apologized for the length of a letter saying he hadn’t taken the time to edit it. Learn from him—edit. Take time so that your reader doesn’t have to.
(See part three for the last four tenets.)