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Back to the Basics

The start of a new year (and a new decade, depending on how you look at it) provides a great opportunity to get back to the basics of communication. Here are some simple rules to guide your communications in 2020.

January 23, 2020
 
 

Think About Your Audience

When developing communication, it’s easy to focus on what we want to communicate versus what the audience needs to know. This can lead to communications that are confusing, raise more questions than they answer or, worst case, arouse fear or suspicion. Before you start to write, think about the perspective of your audience and ask the following questions:

  • What do they know now?
  • What do I want them to know?
  • What questions or concerns are they likely to have about what I’m communicating to them?

Answering these questions will make your communications more clear and effective.

Identify the Goal

Think about why you’re communicating. Is there something you want people to understand, or something you want them to do, or both? Make sure your communication directly speaks to the goal(s). If you can’t identify a goal, perhaps you don’t need to send the communication.

Talk Like a Human

We’ve all received communications that appear to have been written by a robot. For example, “We regret to inform you that, pursuant to our student accounts policy dated Jan. 1, 2018, your account has recently become delinquent.” No one talks like that. And humans tend to shut down when they read communications like that. Saying “your account is overdue” will be more easily understood.

Use Simple Words

Along the same lines, we tend to think that we’ll sound smarter and more official if we use big words. In reality, it can make us sound pretentious. There may be times when you absolutely need to say “pursuant to,” but I can’t think of any.

Get to the Benefit

We love to talk about our student-faculty ratio, the number of buildings on campus and the total square footage of our chemistry labs. And don’t get me wrong, those things are important. But the benefits of them may not be as obvious to the reader as they are to us. Connecting the dots between the low student-faculty ratio and the personalized student experience ensures that the reader gets it.

Think Beyond Paragraphs

When you’re communicating a lot of information, or specific data points you want people to understand, think about layout options. Use bullet points or simple charts in place of dense paragraphs. For example:

“Our graduate employment rate in 2019 was 97 percent, which was a 2 percent increase from 2018” will likely be better understood this way:

  2019 2018 Difference
Employment Rate 97% 95% +2

Wishing you effective communications in 2020!

Deborah Maue is the vice president for marketing and communications at Aurora University in Aurora, Ill.

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