As wonderful as our language might be, it’s an imperfect communication tool. Using it in the simplest ways can result in unwanted surprises! If you’ve ever been puzzled by a response to something you wrote or said, you may be happy to have these seven tips:
- ALIASES Don’t confuse your audience by changing terms. Aliases are the “Criminal Elements” in communication. If you call a board a board at the beginning, don’t change to card or device unless there’s a reason for the distinction. If there is a reason, explain it clearly.
- IF If you use these two letters, they require at least two courses of action or you’ll have to follow up with at least two memos or make at least two phone calls. For example: “If it’s sunny Sunday, will you go to the beach with me?” You may wind up alone in the rain while the object of your affection is bowling with someone else.
- SCOPE Does your audience need to know everything you said to respond or take the correct action? Scope creep can actually hide the subject and delay action. Your audience may not know what you want them to do. Conversely, did you say everything they do need to know to respond or take the correct action?
- PASSIVE VOICE Do you “kill” your verbs? Do you talk about your audience instead of to them? For example: Upon receipt of the new rulings, the updating of the file will be done by the User.” This could be, “When you get the new rulings, update the file.” Use strong, precise verbs and talk to your audience.
- PREPOSITIONS Prepositions are building blocks for run-on sentences. When you use them, be sure they’re really needed. Chances are they’re not adding any value at all. These are commonly used prepositions: after, at, before, during, except, from, in, into, of, on, to, with.
- CONJUNCTIONS A conjunction is as good a building block for run-on sentences as a preposition. Conjunctions are like adhesive and they can hook unrelated topics together and they fill up every space where you might have taken a breath and they use up every space where your audience might have needed a breather and they make it difficult to find the subject of the sentence, but they’re used a lot!
- PARENTHESES When you’re not sure that your audience will understand what you just explained, it’s common to explain it again in parentheses. It means that you knew you didn’t say what you meant to say clearly and concisely. Get rid of the phrase you knew you had to explain (the words you used in parentheses to explain your explanation were probably the right ones or pretty close to them).