Written materials often bear the greatest burden for the communication of new ideas and procedures. Effective writing is the product of long hours of preparation, revision and organization. One book that follows its own rules is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, a short book which argues persuasively for clarity, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English. Its entire philosophy is contained in one paragraph:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reasons that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that EVERY WORD TELL.” Clear, vigorous writing is a product of clear, vigorous thinking. Clarity is born of discipline and imagination. Kirkpatrick gives the following guidelines for using written communication:
Use Written Communication When:
- The sender wants a record for future references.
- The receiver will be referring to it later.
- The message is complex and requires study by the receiver.
- The message includes a step by step procedure.
- Oral communication is not possible because people are not in the same place at the same time.
- There are many receivers. Caution: the receivers must be interested in the
- Subject and will put forth the time and effort to read and understand.
- It is cheaper. Caution: the same as above.
- A copy of the message should go to another person.
- The receiver prefers written.
Advantages of Written Materials
- Highly technical topics can be presented using words and diagrams.
- Written material provides a permanent record that can be referred to from time to time or passed on to others.
- Written material can be duplicated in large quantities or distributed on the Internet relatively inexpensively.
- It is fairly easy to distribute written material to many people, but this practice is getting increasingly expensive and its effectiveness questionable.
- Written material is preferred when it is desirable to get the same information to a group of people.
- Written records and reports are sometimes useful in legal matters.
- Written material may be useful for documenting the success or progress of some project or activity.
Disadvantages of Written Material
- People seldom take the time and effort to read technical materials.
- The preparation of written documents is time-consuming.
- Once prepared in large quantities, printed documents are difficult to change.
- Written material provides little feedback for the sender.
- Technical documents are often too long and complex for the majority of readers.
- A portion of the population may not be able to read written material.
- Too much reliance on written material as a communication method may obscure the true needs of potential users.