Put Your Best Foot Forward - practicing written communication skills

Two months ago, I wrote an article entitled “Put Your Best Foot Forward: Practicing Good Phone Etiquette.” I stated that in many interview and pre-hire situations, good communication skills play a very important role. I outlined three communication problems I commonly face while on the phone, and tried to offer constructive criticism and positive ways to change the problems.

In this month's article, I would like to follow-up on my previous account by discussing something I was taught in my high school English classes: PATS. I receive email and notes from drivers all the time, and while many I can understand and answer without a problem, there are those that I honestly don't have the faintest idea what they want from me! However, just by following these four simple steps, your professional writing can be vastly improved, which I hope makes you more confident when contacting potential employers.

P is for Purpose:

The most important thing involved in good communication between two people is understanding one another's point. If you begin to write and find that it's taken you six paragraphs to ask whether or not a company is hiring, you probably need to take a moment to define the purpose of your letter. Defining the purpose will help direct your thoughts more cohesively. Start by asking yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish by writing this letter?”

A is for Audience:

Imagine if you were writing a note to your seven year old, “My darling Patricia, from whence you came into my life, your eyes so bright, so full of light, I knew that thence and thee and thou and thine.........” I doubt she would know what you were trying to tell her (unless she is a super genius – in which case “congratulations!”) Before you put pen to paper or finger to key, you have to identify your audience. In other words, Make your writing appropriate for the person with which you are trying to communicate. Ask yourself, “Are they old, young, well-educated or not, are they male or female, is it more than one person, do I know them, or have I never met them?”

T is for Tone:

So you get through 1 and 2, and you're all set to write and you begin, “WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO IS THIS BECAUSE YOU ARE WRONG AND I AM RIGHT!” Now, what about that sentence makes me, as the audience, want to do whatever it was that you had written to tell me to do. I understand being upset, frustrated, sad, and angry, and that is fine for personal letters. In a professional environment, however, maintaining a level and neutral tone is more often than not the best choice. It's kind of like the saying of you have to meet your enemies half way. Because your audience can have no immediate rebuttal to anything you say, how you choose to say it to them is very important so that your purpose is not misconstrued. Decide whether you want to portray yourself as earnest, sincere, disappointed, upbeat, or so on.

S is for Style:

Tone and Style are very similar, but it's kind of like choosing what to wear and then deciding how you want to wear it. Two women of similar body type can wear the same outfit, yet look completely different. One might have her shirt un-tucked, the other might have her hair down instead of up. Style in writing goes much the same way. You can choose to be formal, informal, personal, or impersonal, factual or fictional, and many more. Choosing a style at the beginning of your written work and remaining consistent to it helps the audience move through your work with greater ease, and it can also help to define the tone with greater meaning.

With all that I have said in mind, remember that practice makes perfect – so get to writing, America!

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