The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place

By Brian Doidge

Good written communication skills continue to be essential in Marketing, but is it possible to clarify ‘what a good job looks like’ for this, in a succinct yet meaningful way?

As George Bernard Shaw famously once said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  For marketers, the importance of being able to develop and share a range of documents, which can increase awareness and understanding, cannot be overstated.  However, how big is our risk of misapprehension?

Well, we know that the art of ‘making common’ that which was in your head, at the time of writing, with what will be in your intended reader’s  (once they have read your pamphlet, brochure, leaflet etc) is always going to need careful consideration.  In particular, balancing soundbites with depth and detail, is now also adding to our challenge, in a world thirsty for knowledge, but with a diminishing attention span.  Also, the demands arising out of society’s expectations around the deployment of images, is now eroding the long held dominance of text.     

When seeking advice around good communication skills, there is a wealth of information around body language, eye contact, listening etc.  However, when we are trying to make more passive media, active, what does a great job actually look like?  Well, there is literature that can help and it seems to growing.  In fact, there are around nine common themes currently being offered up to guide us i.e.

  1. Basics: Remember that, spelling, grammar and punctuation – do still matter.  Capital letters are generally harder to read, so use them sensibly.
  2. Structure: There should be a logical flow. Think of the great stories that we read as children. They started with, once upon a time and ended with happily ever after.  Set the scene, tell the story, make your point and then a big finish.
  3. Specific: Keep to point and make sure that the context is well defined at the outset and avoid ambiguity.
  4. Up-Front: Front load your most important content, to enhance its’ chance of being read.
  5. Honesty: Don’t be a ‘truth editor’!  “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  6. Reader: Understand how people read.  Write in a way that your audience can understand easily and quickly.
  7. Time: Don’t waste people’s time.  Help them navigate quickly to centres of interest.   It gets increasing harder to concentrate as you move through the text.   As Winston Churchill famously said: “This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.” Try to stick to 500 words maximum if you can.
  8. Location: Online reading, is very differently to reading words on paper. Also, you are not the only attraction, think about how you will keep the reader interested.
  9. Images: Visual impact is now just expected really. As Walt Disney reminded us:“Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”

As Jan Koum said:  “Communication is at the very core of our society. That's what makes us human.” Worth a bit of effort isn’t it?