Informative communication focuses on helping the audience understand a topic, issue, or technique more clearly. Informative communications range from brief emails, to formal written reports, to digital or in-person presentations, to training about a new process or system. They can include include instructions, case studies, health & safety reports, progress updates, biographical information, lab results, technical specifications, and more. In fact, the purpose of much professional communication is to inform. Informative communications increase your audience’s understanding of a topic and/or increase knowledge or skill in how to do something. Informative communication can expresses a complex topic in ways that make relationships and content clear, through illustration, explanation, and examples that make your topic more accessible to your audience.
Note that informative communication is not intended to change your audience’s mind about an issue, even though that may be an unintended result. When your communication purpose is to inform, make sure that you present information in a way that is as direct, clear, specific, balanced, and objective as possible.
Suggestions to Help You Inform Effectively
- Start with an audience analysis and keep your audience in mind. Ask what they might know and need to know in order to be able to understand and/or use your information.
- Use neutral language. In revision, make sure that you’re not being more positive in presenting some information and negative for other information.
- Use credible, balanced sources. If you need to present research, use sources that in themselves are not biased or from organizations with a particular bias. If you use a source that supports one side of an issue, include an alternative source and view, giving each equal time and respectful consideration.
- Offer information clearly and concisely. Delete extra words, use simple language and sentence structures.
- Use specific and varied examples and explanations. Every example will not resonate with everyone’s particular experience; diversify your examples and explanations.
- Choose media carefully. Mixing media helps retain attention. Include diagrams in a written communication, voice files in a web page, and/or images and small group work during an in-person instruction.
Although the following video is focused on informative speaking, its information can apply to any informative communication.
Types of Informative Communications
You may need to write or present an informative report that discusses status, trends, or relationships pertaining to a specific topic. Such a report might organize information around key events, discoveries, or technical data and provide context and illustration for your audience. They may naturally wonder, “Why are sales up (or down)?,” or “What is the product leader in your lineup?,” and you need to anticipate their perspective and present the key information that relates to your topic. If everyone in the room knows the product line, you may not need much information about your best seller, but instead emphasize marketing research that explains why it is the best seller. Reports may be short or long, oral, memo, informal or formal; however, all reports need to consider the audience’s needs and present specific information in an organized fashion that is easy to comprehend.
A summary informs the audience of just the main ideas related to a topic. You may need to write an executive summary as an initial part of a formal report, for an audience of executives who want the highlights of your information as a reminder of, or a prelude to, fuller information in the report. Or you may need to formulate a brief explanation to emphasize an idea quickly and succinctly in a meeting.
Describing information requires using concrete, vivid language that captures attention. Your audience will understand information more fully through language and also through non-verbal information such as images, video, charts, or other illustrations that help describe a process, concept, or other data.
A communication intended to demonstrate focuses on clearly showing a process and explaining important details about each step so that your audience can imitate, repeat, or do the action themselves. If the topic is complicated, think of ways to simplify each step. Demonstrations usually involve visuals as well as examples to most effectively teach information.
Additional Considerations if Your Purpose Is to Instruct
Instruction takes information one step further. The purpose of communicating to inform is to help your audience understand something. The purpose of communicating to instruct is to help your audience understand something in order to act – to enter data in a particular way, to access information in the organization’s electronic archives, to follow safety procedures, to interact with clients effectively. Instruction involves some additional planning on the part of the communicator in terms of the following considerations.
In an ideal world, every audience member would be interested in your topic. Unfortunately, however, not everyone will be equally interested in your information. The range of interest might extend from not at all interested to very interested, with individual audience members all across this continuum. So you need to motivate your audience to choose to engage with your information. Begin with information that captures attention. Point out benefits of learning the information. Pose questions within a spoken or written communication. Include brief “try-its” so that instruction is enhanced by application. Ask yourself what would motivate you to engage with the instruction, in order to help understand how to motivate your audience.
Relevance & Novelty
A natural question audience members will ask themselves is, what does the topic have to do with me? Why should I care about it? Effective instruction makes information relevant to the audience. Consider your audience’s experiences, backgrounds, and roles. Choose examples that relate to and build upon their professional experience and/or their experience as adults in contemporary society.
Also note that sometimes humans are contradictory. We are naturally attracted to novelty, yet we appreciate predictability and relevance. We like clear organization, yet there are times when we enjoy a little controlled chaos. Novelty involves something new, unusual, or unfamiliar. If your purpose is to instruct, how do you meet the two contrasting needs for familiarity/relevance and novelty? Balance relevance and novelty by building on the information the audience knows, briefly reviewing it and then extending it, illustrating it, and demonstrating the impact. You can inform and instruct through linking new information to things the audience already knows, and then extending into information less known.
As you prepare your communication, consider ways you can show application of your content and/or have your audience themselves practice as you instruct. In either an in-person physical presentation, an asynchronous online presentation, or a written document, decide on the best places to pause and ask your audience to try out a technique, step in the process, or short role-play.
How you organize and present information shapes your audience’s attitudes and behavior. Setting an agenda, just like the agenda of a meeting, means selecting what the audience will see and hear and in what order. Provide a brief outline, summary, or overview of your information early in the instruction, so that your audience knows in general what to expect. Within the communication, use verbal and visual cues to emphasize main points so that your audience focuses on key concepts and procedures. Use internal summaries, such as “Now that we’ve discussed point X, let’s examine its relationship to point Y.” This will help your audience follow your logic and organization and differentiate between supporting material and main points. At the end of the communication, re-state and summarize main points and key concepts.
Questions & Assessment
Offer ways for audience members to ask questions, e.g., enable chat during a virtual meeting, allow questions during and at the end of an in-person presentation, include contact information at the end of written instructions, email participants asking if there are questions as a follow up to the instruction. Also, assess learning if possible, e.g., ask your audience to write and submit their three key takeaway points at the end of a presentation, track and group the number of emailed questions you receive to find patterns, plan on time for a short “try-it” to see how well your audience can apply concepts at the end of the instruction.
What is wrong with this informative message?
To: All employees
Subject: Benefit packages are ready to pick up
Even though I know you don’t want to hear it, it’s that time of year again to re-enroll for your health benefits. I know that there was some confusion and consternation last year, so I’m writing to let you all know this in good time. The packets are on my desk and can be picked up at any time. Please do so as soon as possible, to meet enrollment deadlines. If you have been employed more than 2 years, make sure to also pick up an additional form “B.”