By Sachin Shenolikar
So much of business communication is via the written word, but are the messages getting through to customers?
Whether it’s due to unclear prose, too much information, or poor organization, a significant amount of written communication leaves readers confused — definitely not the reaction that’s intended.
The methodology of communications engineering solves this issue by combining behavioral science and graphic design to ensure that the information presented is meeting the needs of both writers and readers.
It starts with one straightforward tip. As a writer, the first thing to figure out is the intention of your message: What action do you want the reader to take? For example, if you’re providing an explanation of health benefits or a credit card statement, what do you want employees to do after reading the information you provided?
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“The point of any communication is not only to share information but, in most cases, be able to influence an action that the recipient takes,” says Margaret Love, director of client services at Xerox. “The goal is to be as clear as possible. You don’t want someone to interpret what you’re trying to communicate.”
Learn about Xerox Marketing and Communication Services that can help you produce and deliver business-critical communications that build customer relationships.
Real Business asked Love to outline the seven components of effective communication:
- Organize in Odd Chunks. Decades ago, studies were conducted on how people process information. Researchers determined that the optimal amount of information that the human mind can comprehend at a single time is seven items. It’s okay to go plus or minus two items to five or nine “chunks,” but remember that the mind processes better in odd numbers, not even.
- Design to Multiple Senses. When we think about printed communication, the focus is often on text. However, some individuals process information better through visual means. Designing documents that address multiple styles can exponentially improve comprehension and reaction to the information. Use graphics to help amplify text, photos to grab attention, or arrows that point to important sections.
- Provide Framing Cues. Make sure your document or email has a clear start and end point. Draw a box around key information to help it stand out.
- Keep It Short. Extra text may fill up a page, but chances are it will confuse the reader. You don’t want to leave the recipients wondering What did I just read? and What do I have to do next?
- Watch Your Tone. When someone speaks in a manner akin to a parent scolding a child, it generally isn’t received well in the business world. The word choice and tone should be adult-to-adult. Instead of You owe us money in a red font, it’s better to say, We know you’re busy, and perhaps you forgot to pay.
- Have Clear Navigation. In a lengthy document, it’s important for readers to be aware of how much they have left to read. Insert a navigational tool at beginning of the document so the recipient understands what he’s in for before digging in.
- Make it Stick. Fact: You have three to five seconds to grab a recipient’s attention. The beginning of the document must be eye-catching “Visual Velcro” that pulls the reader in and convince him to continue reading.
From the editor: This article was first published on RealBusiness.com, a website from Xerox that provides ideas and information for decision-makers in business and government.
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