November 10, 2011

Communication is Key - Bonnie Way

In university, I took a biology course to fulfill the science requirements for my Arts degree. It was not a course I looked forward to. Biology was my best science in high school, but my marks were just good enough to get me into university. Fortunately, I had an excellent professor and a friend to study with, but what got me through the course was my writing skills.

The exams had two parts: a multiple choice section and a written part. The multiple choice questions were specific. More specific than I knew. I couldn’t keep the Krebs’ cycle in my head long enough to get to the exam. What I could do was write. As an Arts major, most of my exams were written. I could write a whole essay on something I had only the foggiest idea about. And because I could write, I passed the course.

Communication is key in our world today. If we cannot communicate the information we know, it doesn’t matter what we know. Miscommunication or unclear communication can result in huge blunders or great confusion. As an editor, my job is to make sure that concepts and information are clearly communicated to the intended audience. As a writer, communication is my job.

So how can we make sure we are communicating clearly—as mothers, as writers, as employees? Written communication gives us the opportunity to check for clarity. Even a quick email should be double-checked before the SEND button is hit. Here are a few hints for checking your writing (whether email, articles, or other documents) before it goes to its audience. 
1. Read it aloud to yourself. You may want to make sure the room is empty before you do this (though your two-year-old may not care), but it allows you to hear awkward constructions, errors, run-on sentences, and other problems you may miss by just reading the document. Read carefully. Pause at commas and periods. Run out of breath? Your sentence is too long. Does a pause feel awkward? Maybe it is incorrectly punctuated.

2. Give it some time. If the document isn’t urgent, put it aside for an hour or a day or two and look at it later. This will let you “forget it” and see it with fresh eyes. You may catch mistakes that you did see as you were writing.

3. Have another person read it (critique groups are great for this!). If they are confused or uncertain, fix it. Perhaps in explaining it to them, you’ll discover a better way to express it. They may also be able to catch spelling or punctuation errors that you missed. 
Communication requires constant work but improves with practice. Pay attention to how those around you communicate (especially if you write fiction and need dialogue ideas!). Just remember that even if you don’t know everything, you can communicate clearly what you do know.

~ © Bonnie Way,


  1. Thanks for the reminders, Bonnie! I need to get better at eliminating lazy writing, even in casual emails. And especially in blog posts...I am an editor after all! Beautiful picture, by the way.

  2. Short and sweet --- and right on the mark. Sometimes we are like the plumber whose own pipes are leaking or the painter whose own walls need some TLC!

  3. Joanna - I see too many bloggers who are lazy about their posts because it's "just a blog." It's public writing, so we need to proofread it too! :)

    LC - too true! It's embarrassing to catch typos in my own writing when I'm always picking on others for their misspellings... :)

    Brenda - thanks! I try to remember them...

  4. Good for you - wowing your profs with your writing! Good editing points too, especially the one to let writing cool for a bit before posting it or sending it away. Time works wonders for picking up typos and awkwardly worded passages.

  5. These are all common sense tips, yet too easily ignored or forgotten in the rush to publish.
    Using these even in informal writing helps to make it a habit.
    Thanks for the reminders


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