Communicating as a Leader

The Basics of Writing and Communication

Jonathan Oates asked:

Communication is all around us. The exchanging of information is a human activity, but ultimately a natural one. For all our sophistication, we are greatly outnumbered by all those living things which could not get by without communication of one kind or another. It goes without saying that much communication in the natural world is non-verbal; most of us have from time to time been advised to think about our body language.

Whether we are using words or not, our communications can be spontaneous, or more premeditated. In fact, underlying all communication, or all forms of information exchange – from the most simple to the most complex – are some simple elements which it is useful to keep in mind.

We set to work with communications objectives in mind. These are to do with our audience. Whatever we wish to say, we wish it to have an impact or effect on our audience. Our writing conveys information to the audience in such a way as to have this effect.

Of course, it is not quite as simple as that. Information has to be encoded in a message, in a language, and in a form or format that our audience can understand.

In turn, that message has to be conveyed via a channel or media that our audience can (and does) access.

So, students have to demonstrate to their supervisors in an essay or dissertation that they have mastered its subject. Business organisations need to attract the attention and patronage of their customers through very brief radio and television ads, or, increasingly, through banner or pay per click (PPC) ads, online. Best men continue to address ‘dearly beloved’ audiences with not a little trepidation, but a carefully prepared and hopefully well rehearsed speech. The variety of writing is endless. Writing then, is any planned, and structured, language-based communication, designed with an audience, a particular purpose, and a medium or media in mind.

Its special significance – distinguishing it from more casual or spontaneous uses of language – is that it functions in the absence of its author. We do not need a Walton or a Sainsbury to tell us in person that their latest offers are too good to miss. Likewise, a well written research paper from the 1950s may reveal its author’s errors of understanding, or lack of data, but will leave us in no doubt as to their way of thinking or rationale. So long as authors or publishers plan for the language community of their audience, they can leave us to decode their messages, confident we will get their meaning.

The effectiveness of a piece of writing can be measured in terms of how far it delivers the objectives of the communication, reaching and affecting the intended audience in the desired way, as far as possible within the media selected.


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