Communication in the workplace is practiced and accomplished for many practical purposes. The goal is to effectively convey information to an audience, whether it be to co-workers or someone with greater responsibilities in the workplace. Workplace writing differs from written communication in other contexts, such as educational or social arenas. In the workplace, writing is considered a legal document and is frequently archived or retained for several years at a time. These writings can be referenced to in the future if legal complications arise. Workplace writing also varies from typical writing due to the fact that the audience is generally reading documents not for entertaining nor teaching themselves; it should contain important, relevant and needed information only, with no redundancy.
Workplace writing should always focus on the audience; what does the reader need to know? Writing should effectively convey the precise information that the reader is seeking. If the writing is an attempt to persuade the reader, then the writer must consider what will persuade the reader most. For example, a work team may be writing a proposal to install new production machinery in a factory. Different readers in the company will want different information from this proposal. A well-written document will consider every potential reader and give the information that each reader is seeking.
Throughout all of your work, constantly think about your readers. As you make each writing decision, consider your readers’ characteristics, goals, expectations, situation, and other factors that will shape their response to what you say. Concentrate on crafting a communication that will be persuasive and usable in your readers’ eyes. These are two important qualities of successful work-related communications. Focus specifically on the ways your readers will respond, moment by moment, while they are reading your communication. This will be the only opportunity to influence your readers directly.
Effective Workplace Writing
Workplace writing must be persuasive and usable to all potential readers. For a document to be efficient, it must be easily understood by the intended audience. It is important to use simple sentences, words, and structure so that all that view the document can comprehend it. A document that is hard to understand is not usable or effective, since the audience will be unable to properly understand the document. Highly usable writing should help readers quickly locate, understand, and use the information to complete their task(s). It can be used as a reference, a how-to, or a means for them to see your progress on your own tasks and what still needs to be done.
Persuasive writing should convince readers that the information is accurate and should be followed. For example, a reader may be considering several different proposals. The chosen proposal is most likely to be the one that is most persuasive; however, if writing is not persuasive, then it is not likely to be followed. Thus, the entire writing effort will have been wasted. It is pertinent to understand, though, that being persuasive does NOT mean conducting unethical behavior. Do not write a document to simply to have yours preferred or chosen over others. Always be sure to use ethical practices.
Some ethical practice questions to ask yourself are the following:
- Did I cite my sources? Did I use credible information?
- Did I “twist” any information?
- Am I using the correct language?
- Am I only telling the truth, no “bluffing”?
- Am I being realistic?
- Am I being timely?
- Am I being accurate?
- Am I giving a correct assessment and perception of what will be done?
How Writers and Readers Interact
Writers and readers interact in unique ways. In all cases, writing is a one-way flow of information. Therefore, writers must consider and include all of their readers’ needs. Every reader is different, but an effective writer must anticipate what will be most useful to the audience. Additionally, the world is extremely diverse. Some readers may be more relaxed or open-minded than others. For this reason, writers must learn to be conscientious in their writing to ensure they won’t discourage or offend any of their readers. If a reader is offended, any decision made will likely not be made in the writer’s favor. Effective writing eliminates unnecessary pieces of information and ensures a concise document. For example, constantly using the pronoun “he” or “she” may seem gender-biased and should be avoided. Using stereotypes of any nature is unacceptable and could even result in legal action. There is more on language sensitivity in Module 3.
Different readers may construe different meanings from the same words. The meaning may be shaped by a user’s previous experience, culture, or even a user’s state of mind. Each reader will construct a meaning based on the context of the writing and their previous experiences. This is why when writing a document you must start with who your audience is and what they need to know.
Readers react moment by moment when reading a document. Important information will usually have a greater impact if it is placed at the beginning of a document. This ensures that it will be read right away. Many readers will not finish a document, and so this “inverted pyramid” writing style is very effective. In addition, the average business professional says that he/she does not spend more than 30 seconds reading a resume, and no more than five minutes on a business proposal. It is prudent to place the most important information at the beginning of the document and least important at the end. Knowing what is most important depends on the reader, so in the case of a resume, you should research the job duties and responsibilities, as well as, the organization you are applying to in order to decide what should go first.
The writer should ensure stylistic continuity as well. A writer attempting humor in a long technical document may confuse the reader; while the same humor, if used while writing about a personal anecdote, may more easily amuse the reader. To reiterate, every reader will have a different reaction to a piece of writing, and these reactions will depend on everything from the context of the writing to the reader’s cultural upbringing. For this reason, a wise technical writer always analyzes his or her audience FIRST before writing the document.