Friday, November 16, 2007

The Writing Challenge: Creating the Context

In his exceptional primer on the study of signs, Semiotics: The Basics (second edition), Daniel Chandler writes:

"Beyond any conscious intention, we communicate through gesture, posture, facial expression, intonation and so on." (48)

Our "real-time" writing sensibilities, driven by e-mail and instant messaging, are all too often the culprit of our miscommunication. When writing, we need context language, or helpful-to-know language, to represent our gestures, postures, facial expressions, intonations, and the like. The context language makes our content language relevant. Examples:

Content Only: doc attchd
Content with Context: Attached is the document you’ll need for our next meeting.

Content: Here’s the quarterly sales report. Explain.
Content with Context: Here is the quarterly sales report for your analysis. Please explain the discrepancy between 4Q06 and 4Q07. Thanks.

Reading that one sentence by Daniel Chandler should remind us that writing cannot be a perfect substitute for speaking—so we need context language to bring the printed word as close as we can to the spoken one.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

To purchase your copy of The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: