In a digital world where we often communicate via a quick text or pack a message in 140 characters or less, we can’t overlook that having polished written communication skills is key for professionals in most any field. Your students likely need to compose e-mails to their instructors and potential contacts in their field of study, and correspond with fellow classmates on group work or discussion boards. Beyond their academic careers, students will likely find that good written communication skills are key to demonstrate in cover letters, requests for contact with potential employers, and correspondence with colleagues once they do land a job.

In Written Communication: Illustrated Course Guides, author Jeff Butterfield reviews five guidelines to keep in mind as you work to clarify written communication. We’ve adapted his guidelines below — share these with your students who may be seeking short or long-term employment this summer, or keep them to share with next term’s students as things to be cognizant of as they e-mail you with questions during next semester. You may even find them helpful if you’re reviewing research or a presentation you’ll be sharing this summer.

  1. Know your audience. Keep in mind who you’re writing for. By employing a critical eye toward whether the communication you’ve crafted is written with their point of view in mind, you’ll be more likely to get them to take the action you desire.
  2. Build on what they know. Try to think about the experience your reader already has, and what you can communicate that will build on that knowledge and introduce them to new ideas.
  3. What’s your goal? Before you start writing, establish a clear objective for your document. That means knowing why you’re writing it, and the outcome you expect by sharing it.
  4. Simplify. Remember when your first foray into creative writing? Tacking on a lot of descriptive words and flowery language likely won’t get a positive result in a professional situation. Keep your document clear and concise, and pause before you reach for the thesaurus — your writing should be approachable — avoid those ten-dollar words.
  5. Consider the layout. The first step toward reaching your goal of getting a reader to take action is getting her to read what you’ve written. Avoid long blocks of text in favor of organizing your writing in an inviting layout. Of course, your answer to the third point will guide your format quite a bit. (p. 28)

Content adapted from Butterfield, Jeff. 2013. Written Communication: Illustrated Course Guides, Second Edition. Boston, MA: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.

Even if you don’t teach writing, how do you encourage your students to practice good written communication skills? Share your methods and ideas with us in the comments section below, or e-mail us at [email protected]