Improve your Clarity of Communication

2019-05-06

Early this week, a colleague asked me how I had learned to so clearly communicate my plans and designs. We had come from a design session, on a problem the team had been struggling with. At the time, I had no idea how to answer. It wasn't that I thought it a 'natural born gift'. I've spend the better part of my career working on communication. In fact most of my own blog posts precipitate from the subject. I've written on communication through code, with business partners. I even have posts on alternative models for thing about what software engineers are!

And that got me thinking: Did my blog have something to do with it? I went back and reviewed my blogging method. I also walked through the 'history', if you can call it that, of my blog. I started blogging to sharing my experience, and of creating a 'living resume'. And to be honest I wasn't very eloquent. The posts had many grammatical and spelling mistakes. But as I progressed both through my posts and career, I found that my style had subtly changed. While I still have occasional spelling and grammar mistakes. On the whole, my posts are not of a more direct and concise style.

I found the description my colleague had used was like the one I had awarded my blog post. That's when another remark she'd made caught my attention. She'd called out my ability to state my perspective and argument in a very logical manner. She particularly praised it because she could easily understand my plan and trust it. This aspect was not one that my posts started with. That is not to say they were illogical. Instead, my early posts were more difficult to interpret. Their structure was weaker. Now as I reviewed my blog, I found not only had my writing style changed but my writing structure too had improved.

By this time, I had developed a theory. Through the practice of writing a blog, my writing had improved. With practice, I began to internalize this style and structure. And as a result of 4 or so years of consistent weekly practice, my verbal arguments began to resemble my writing. Anecdotally, I could support this with a recent observation of my writing process.

Close to a year ago, I began to pass each blog post through the Hemingway Editor. It is a free tool for evaluating the flow and style of your writing. It marks difficult and hard to read sentences. It highlights the use of adverbs, passive voice verbs, and other writing oddities. When I first started, the editor would highlight some 90% of my post. The majority was for hard to read sentences. My use of the passive voice was excessive, and I favored the use of many adverbs. With the Editor's feedback, I would amend and correct my blog posts. And over time, my initial drafts got better. Now I seldom find more than 1 hard to read sentence, and hardly any passive voice.

So when another colleague asked me the same question later in the week, I was able to offer this theory. Try to write a consistent blog. Over time, your writing will improve. As you internalize these improvements, your verbal style will shift to match. By using tools ,such as the Hemingway Editor, you could observe the tendencies in your writing. Then you can conciously change them. If you struggle to explain your position in the heat of an argument, this technique may help you too.

Writing for the web is somewhat less stressful. Yes, there is a wider, anonymous audience. But you can take the time you need to craft your discussion. You draft, and redraft the discussion without concern. No one expects a child to be running right after their first steps. So do not despise the day of small beginnings. Give yourself, and your writing time to mature. The results are invaluable in the end!