Effective communication is a subject that has been on our institution’s syllabus for years as a standalone topic in our leadership thematic area, and even more often, as an integral part of our thematic financial workshops. It’s not only officials dealing with hard-core technical topics that need good communication skills to push their agendas forward, it is also us – the learning conveners and facilitators – that depend on them.
But do we at the CEF practice what we preach? Do our participants, lecturers, donors, partners and other stakeholders get our message?
We are aware that whatever we do, write or say is communication: non-verbal like body language, written and verbal. And we do our best to make good communication – internal and external – our value. Yet we have to admit that sometimes we struggle to achieve the desired outcome, especially in written communication that is most evident to our external audience.
That is why we have been recently paying more attention to our English writing skills. Very few people have the ability to write effortlessly and perfectly. Equally, very few people think accurately enough so that mere transcriptions of what they have in mind can serve as intelligent communication. And for most of us, English is not our mother tongue.
Here are some tips and tricks for better writing:
- Think before you write. Revise and check. We tend to revise our words and refine our thoughts simultaneously. The improvements we make in our thinking and the improvements we make in our style reinforce each other; they cannot be separated.
- Focus on the reader. Be direct and interesting. In e-mails and letters get straight to the point.
- Keep it short and simple. Write clear, acurate and well-focused messages. Clever writers write to express, not impress. Avoid fancy words and empty phrases.
- Stay active. Prefer active to passive voice.
- Be positive. Put statements in positive form.
- Pick your design and stick to it. Smart and consistent formatting helps readers.
I will conclude with a funny observation that a trained writer’s eyes spotted in the CEF’s writing: we like to thank in advance for replies and inputs. Our editor explained that this sounds less gracious to English speakers than its Slovene equivalent. Well, thank you for that!
- CEF Writing Style Guide for Internal Use at the CEF, Kadri Podra, 2013
- The Elements of Style, Oliver Strunk, 2014
- How to Write Clearly, Directorate-General for Translation (European Commission), 2011