After reading this article you will learn about Communication:- 1. Definition of Communication 2. Principles to Increase Clarity of Communication 3. Edit-Edit-Edit.
- Definition of Communication
- Principles to Increase Clarity of Communication
1. Definition of Communication:
‘A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a painting should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.’
– Strunk Jr, W. and White, E.B. (1918)
Communication is the window to one’s personality. When we speak or write, our personality is in full view of the audience. People who excel in communication present a positive personality. Even before we assess their hard skills in a particular domain of interest, their strong communication skill gives us a favourable impression.
People whose written or verbal communication is convincing, crisp, correct—and most Importantly clear, always get that important additional look! That goes a long way in increasing the likelihood of their success in their professional career.
Poor communicators, on the contrary, create an instant negative image of their personality. If a person communicates in a long-winded or indirect manner, lacks cohesion of expression, uses incorrect phrases or complex words, the clarity of his communication suffers. This often becomes an impediment to their professional growth.
Written communication is a key soft skill that reflects one’s personality. For example:
a. Incorrect English reflects lack of English education.
b. Long-winded sentences indicate a convoluted thought-process.
c. Unnecessary use of flowery words shows a desire to impress.
d. Text written in passive voice shows a defensive personality.
On the contrary:
a. Use of correct English indicates good English education.
b. Short, simple sentences reflect clarity in one’s thought process.
c. Simple words in the text show a self-assured personality.
d. Text written in active voice shows confidence and directness of approach.
We will now discuss fifteen principles that will help increase clarity of communication.
2. Principles to Increase Clarity of Communication:
Here are some guidelines that can increase the communication clarity.
a. Use Short, Simple, and Clear Words:
In spite of all admonitions, love for the long stylish word lingers. It is for the psychologists to find out the reason behind this aberration. But communication by scientists and engineers requires use of short, simple and clear words. These are more forceful than the long words. A short word, appropriately used, enhances the clarity of expression.
Table 8.1 gives examples of a few short and simple words that would give an idea of the type of words that should get preference over polysyllabic words.
Avoid long sentences. We can achieve this by removing redundant words or phrases. We can also convert passive voice to active voice wherever possible. Another option is to split a complex sentence into two.
We support managers and assist them in the negotiation of better outcomes in the realization of their business goals.
Number of words: 19
We help managers negotiate with customers to get better business.
Number of words: 11
c. Do not Cram Different Points into One Sentence:
Each sentence should deal with one point clearly. We often have the tendency to combine multiple themes into one sentence. This impairs the readability.
For example, two very distinct observations are being made in the following sentence. It should be revised so that each observation is made clearly in a different sentence.
The employees celebrated their success by donating 2% of their profits to charity and it was used to purchase books and clothes for the needy.
The employees celebrated their success by donating 2% of their profits to charity. This was used to purchase books and clothes for the needy.
d. Using Compact Substitutes for Wordy Phrases
e. Remove Redundant Words and Expressions:
Clarity can also be enhanced by eliminating expressions that do not add value to a text. The secret of high-clarity text is to strip every sentence to its essential parts. There is no end to the number of redundancies in English when written in a careless fashion.
The examples below illustrate some expressions that can be completely deleted.
It has been found that…
It is interesting to note that…
As already stated…
It may be said that…
It is worth mentioning at this point…
Likewise, here is a list of some glaringly redundant expressions, parts of which can also be removed. The redundant words have been put inside brackets. There are also cases where the verb is capable of expressing the notion of togetherness. In such instances, the expression ‘together’ is superfluous. The examples below illustrate this point.
A little thinking will bring out more such redundancies to the scientist or engineer. Some of these redundancies may be used in special cases for emphasis. But it is for the scientist or engineer to judge and detect these redundancies and not use them indiscriminately.
Here is an example of how removing redundancies can lead to brevity in the text;
It has been found that a day spent each and every week on practising regularly will often lead to faultless perfection in any vocational skill. The main idea of this sentence can be expressed quite easily by using fewer words.
Regular practice leads to perfection in any vocation.
Here is another example:
It has been noted that profits from revenues earned by the company is rapidly growing at a rate of 20% annual growth rate due to which the company is likely to declare dividends depending upon the continued growth.
This may be shortened by eliminating redundancies as follows:
Steady annual growth of 20% in the company’s profits will ensure dividends.
f. Avoid Use of Mixed Metaphors:
Yet another source of lack of conciseness is use of metaphors. Use of metaphors is bad. Use of what is known as mixed metaphor is worse.
For example, the following sentence is a case of mixed metaphor:
Instead of beating about the bush put your cards on the table.
It has two different metaphors: ‘beating about the bush’ and ‘putting the cards on the table.’
The sentence can instead be expressed simply as follows:
Clearly say what you have to state.
Moreover, there is a general notion that one should avoid words that may be considered vulgar. The origin of this can be traced back to the Victorian era when prudishness was at its peak. (A prude is a person who is excessively modest in his behaviour, dress and speech).
This has given rise to what is known as euphemism in language. Euphemism simply means the use of words that are less direct. These words are also not distasteful and are never vulgar.
Some examples are as follows.
In the family way…for pregnant (as in HR policies in industries)
Sales representatives…for salesmen (as in titles used in industries)
Lower income group…for the poor (as in certain segments addressed by a firm)
Expressions such as sales representatives or lower income group are neutral expressions and should be preferred in any industry.
g. Avoid Hackneyed and Stilted Phrases:
Engineers and scientists must try to overcome the temptation of using over-worn phrases and expressions. These expressions are mostly used by greenhorns (first time writers of any important text) to embellish their language. This trait is nothing but a naive attempt to show off one’s learning.
Here are some common examples of such hackneyed expressions:
1. Far to seek
2. Filthy lucre
3. Himalayan blunder
4. Olive branch
5. Close scrutiny
6. Cats and dogs
7. Strain every nerve
h. Avoid Verbosity in the Use of Common Prepositions
Redundancy may be of different forms. Sometimes it may take the form of what may be called ‘verbosity in preposition’.
There is no dearth of appropriate prepositions in the English language. But the tendency is to use more imposing expressions or groups of words to do the job of one simple preposition. In reality, these groups of words stand in the way of precise communication.
Common examples of these types of redundancy are as follows:
As to the For example, in the sentence.
The student must make himself clear as to the core subjects he wants to choose, the simple preposition ‘about’ can well serve the purpose.
In relation to for example, in the sentence.
The agricultural production output varies in relation to the quality of fertilizers, the preposition ‘with’ serves the same purpose without changing the meaning at all.
With regard to for example, in the sentence.
The recruitment of only two extra scientists will make little difference with regard to the output of work,
The preposition ‘to’ will convey the same meaning.
i. Do not twist the Word Order:
Words should be arranged in a logical sequence. After-thoughts should not be added to a sentence. In the example below, the comment on the components of the product precedes that on the full product.
The project achieved 99% success this quarter, which was due to the focus on rigorous execution by the company over the years.
The company focused on rigorous execution over the years. This led to 99% project success this quarter.
j. Present Similar Ideas in a Sentence with Same Structural and Grammatical Form:
This is illustrated in the following example.
Producing, transporting and sale of goods is the key focus of the company.
Here, the original sentence has elements that are not parallel (producing, transporting and sale) and needs to be rewritten.
Producing, transporting and selling of goods are the key focus of the company.
k. Make Positive Statements without being Hesitant or Non-Committal:
This is illustrated in the example below.
There is no way this experiment can fail.
Here, the original sentence is very long-winded and can be revised to make it direct.
The experiment will definitely succeed.
l. Avoid Pompous Words and Phrases:
This is illustrated in the following example.
He categorically stated that the profit would be of gigantic proportions.
Here, ‘categorically stated’ and ‘gigantic proportions’ can be effectively replaced by the simple words ‘clearly stated’ and ‘huge’.
He clearly stated that there would be a huge profit.
j. Use Active Instead of Passive Voice:
A sentence in active voice is direct and easier to read and understand. Moreover, a sentence becomes forceful when it is in active voice. But when the action rather than the person performing the action is more important, it is better to use passive voice as in the following example:
Total waste in the process is analyzed by a thorough calculation of factors in each step.
Thorough calculation of factors in each step analyses total waste in the process.
k. Ensure Correct Spelling and Grammar in the Text:
This is the most important consideration in any text. Spelling and grammatical errors must be avoided by all means. Where needed, tools such as those provided by Microsoft Word, or any text editor or reference books in grammar should be used.
Substitute Easily-understood Words for Words Imported from Other Fields:
The scientist came up with a new paradigm for arriving at an optimal route.
For example, use ‘method’ instead of ‘paradigm’ and ‘best route’ instead of ‘optimal route’. This leads to the revised sentence below:
The scientist came up with a new method to get to the best route.
The advice for writing effectively is simple:
Edit, Edit and Edit.
Once a text (an email, or a technical paper/report, a market summary etc.) is written, it is advisable to take a break, maybe for 30 minutes, or for a few hours, maybe even a day or two after writing the original text.
This should be followed by re-looking at the text with the following considerations:
a. Read the text again from the reader’s perspective.
b. Check for clarity of thought.
c. Check for clarity of text.
Let us discuss each of these in some detail.
a. The Reader’s Perspective:
It is important to ensure that the author of the text is not writing it for his own writing pleasure (as in most cases)! We often write a text and love it to a fault. This can be dangerous. It must be realized that a reader, even subconsciously, is assessing the author of the text at all times.
Every sentence of the author is a signal to the reader. The reader decodes the signal. This is done in the context and mental framework of the reader. Very quickly, the reader thus forms an opinion of the personality of the author.
In a corporate setting, let us consider an e-mail from an engineer to his manager in another country, or a market assessment report from a sales manager to the VP of sales. The reader of the email forms an opinion reading the text.
Hence, revising the text from a reader’s perspective will open up opportunities to edit it.
The following should be borne in mind during this process of editing the text:
a. What is in it for the reader? Will it benefit the reader or his organization?
b. Is the text written from the author’s perspective? If so, significant portions of it may have to be rewritten.
c. Will the reader have the time or patience to read through the entire text? Or will he only look at certain sections of the text?
d. Will the reader be able to capture the essence of the text easily? Or does it have to be extracted and interpreted from convoluted text?
e. Will the reader immediately know what is expected of him, or is it stated too indirectly?
An example of a text written from an author’s perspective is given below:
We have a new system that is built on our company’s innovative technology. The technology is called XYZ, and it reduces the active and the leakage current.
We have now rewritten the same text, this time from a reader’s eyes:
We have a new system that will bring down your household electricity consumption bill by half.
b. Clarity of Thought:
A text should flow like a story to the reader. Hence, the author should write as if he is telling a story to an audience.
Some important considerations to edit the text to increase the clarity of thought are as follows:
1. The first paragraph (of no more than 3-4 sentences) should clearly set the context and expectation from the text.
Ideally, the first couple of sentences should contain the basic intent of the note. This is critical because many busy executives today do not have time to go beyond the first few sentences of any text.
Further, many email systems display the preview of the first couple of lines of the text only. Thus putting the core matter succinctly at the beginning can grab attention of the reader.
Our attrition analysis is now complete. Lack of career growth (40% unfavorable) and poor supervision (33% unfavorable) are our top two issues. We have taken immediate steps to fix this.
2. The text should have a logical sequence. It should not jump from point to point. Each paragraph should have single idea. It is also important to ensure seamless leading in of one paragraph from the previous one.
The preferred sequence of any text is to begin with the need or objective. This sets the context of what’s to follow. It should then get to the matter directly. It must then conclude by stating the areas where a response or help is expected.
To establish our product superiority, I have shown below a comparison table of our competitor offerings with ours.
We see from the analysis above that in 8 of 10 attributes, our products have over a 10% advantage compared to our nearest competitors. We need to develop a marketing strategy that boldly communicates these advantages to all our customers.
I request your approval for a budget of 5,000/- to develop this market communication programme.
In cases of high criticality, the sequence may be sharpened, reversed or highly abbreviated to get instant attention.
For example, an urgent text can be as follows:
I need your urgent help! Our reputation and revenue are at stake here.
Please fly in your failure analysis expert to reach Bangalore by tomorrow 9 a.m. We have a customer rejection of our product due to serious quality issues. Their entire production line has been shut down. The details of the issue are attached.
3. The text should be credible and well-grounded in authenticity. It cannot make wild claims or assertions, without backup support. This can be done through citing data that is based on research that is above-board, references, expert quotes of reputed personalities, etc.
The acid created through this reaction has been proven to be non-corrosive. We tested its properties in the top three Government accredited advanced laboraties (Lab X, Lab Y and Lab Z) of our country. The results reinforced our hypothesis.
c. Clarity of Text:
Once the clarity of thought is established, the final task of editing is to check for clarity of text. For this, the 15 guidelines (stated earlier) for high clarity text must be followed.
A few of these principles are restated here, and must be used extensively during the editing phase.
a. Delete redundant words, phrases or even complete sentences that do not add value.
b. Replace complex or flowery words and phrases by simpler ones.
c. Look for multi-syllable words, and replace by simpler ones.
d. Change passive voice to active voice where it makes sense.
d. Example of Poorly and Well-Written Texts:
Here is an illustration of a technical passage that can be revised using the fifteen principles.
A mobile phone can change your voice sounds into electrical signals, then into weal< radio waves which are picked up by a transmitter receiver (TR), a part of the cellular network which changes the radio signals back into electrical ones and sends them to the local exchange.
There the electrical signals were converted to flashes of laser light and sent along fibre-optic cables to the ground station, where the laser-light signals were changed to electrical ones and then to radio waves which were beamed up to Comsat in space which strengthens the signals it receives and beams them back down to another ground station two continents away where the signals were changed from radio waves into microwaves.
These were beamed cross-country on a microwave link and at the main exchange, the microwaves became laser light signals again. After this conversion from light to electricity at the local exchange, the signals reach the handset and become sounds again.
A close scrutiny of the passage will indicate that it has four long sentences. It also has redundant words (such as ‘voice sounds’). These are also some mismatches intense (are, were) and a few hesitant phrases (can change).
Here is the revised version of the same passage, using the principles stated.
A mobile phone changes your voice into electrical signals, then into weak radio waves. The waves are picked up by a transmitter-receiver (TR), part of the cellular network. The TR changes the radio signals back into electrical ones and sends them to the local exchange.
The local exchange converts electrical signals to flashes of laser light and sends these along fibre-optic cables. The ground station changes the laser light signals to electrical ones and then to radio waves, which are beamed up to a Comsat in space.
The satellite receives the signals, strengthens them and beams them back down to another ground station two continents away. The signals are changed from radio waves into microwaves and beamed cross-country on a microwave link.
At the main exchange the microwaves become laser light signals again, for the fibre-optic network. After conversion from light to electricity at the local exchange, the signals reach the handset and become sounds again. Your voice comes out of the handset.
The passage is now quite simple and there is no difficulty in understanding its meaning.
It should be borne in mind, however, that sentences should neither be too long nor too short (which will make it jerky). A sentence is the backbone of a scientific or engineering communication and hence it must also be free of all grammatical errors. It should be direct, consistent, methodical and interesting.
The use of these principles leads to brevity in the text. Such sentences are the main ingredients of a well-written paragraph.