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Is That What You Meant to Say?
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

In addition to words, vocal expression and body language all play a significant role in helping people to interpret messages.

That's why writing is the most difficult form of communication. Readers cannot see or hear excitement, a twinkle in the eye, a quizzical look or anger. They only have the words on paper or screen.

Therefore, despite the warning that today we should write as we speak, there are a few basic truths we can't ignore.

1. Tongue-in-cheek comments seldom work on paper. Humour relies on timing, voice inflection and body language, as well as words. Written, humourous comments often come across as sarcastic remarks.

A chairman once tried to get his association's members to hurry up with their registrations by writing, "I would personally appreciate your attending to this because I have other things I would rather spend my limited time doing than following up with your renewal." He claims he was being funny. Others thought he should resign from his post, if he was so busy.

2. Enthusiasm is hard to convey. John handed his boss, Tim, the hard copy of a presentation he had been working on. Tim made some minor revisions and returned the material with a brief note saying, "Fine." John was deflated. He had spent long hours ensuring this presentation was outstanding, and he believed he deserved better praise than this.

Later Tim met John in the hall and again mentioned the word "Fine." But this time it was accompanied by an enthusiastic tone and a pat on the back. John immediately felt 100 percent better. If Tim read his correspondence aloud before he sent it-without any vocal expression-he would have a better understanding of how the receiver would read it.

3. Familiarity is also a problem. Many readers object to being called by their first name by writers they have never met. Yet if they were meeting face-to-face with that same stranger, they wouldn't have a problem using first names. On initial correspondence, use a formal salutation: Dear Mr. Brown: or Dear Ms. Smith: or Dear K.W. Black:

Today's writing style calls for you to write more informally than you would have ten years ago. Remember, the correspondence must still be interpreted by an unseen audience.

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