Chapter 4: Writing Effective Routine and Positive Messages

Written Communication Mishaps

Introductory Exercises

  1. Take a few moments and think about communication. What does communication mean to you; how would you define communication? Clearly define your answers to these questions. Save your work; you will need it later.

Learning Objective

  1. How to create intentional messages

Written Communication Accounts for a Large Amount of Business Activity


Two Shocking Miscommunication Facts You May Have Never Known:


  • An analysis of NASA documents by Professor Dorothy A. Winsor, Ph.D., showed a misunderstanding caused by “a history of miscommunication” through memorandums and was determined to be one of the root causes of the 1986 Challenger tragedy (Egan, 1995).


  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by an unnamed, world-class oil company to develop a new pesticide. Later, embarrassed officials noticed the same formula had been discovered five years prior. What’s worse? The company’s own technician had created the formula! This technician had written up his report on the formula so obtusely that no one in the company could finish reading it to begin with.

The above two examples are examples of why the importance of business writing continues to build year after year. Today, writing is the single most prevalent business activity conducted. Because a wealth of businesses focus on written communications to successfully conduct business, presidents and CEO’s cannot afford to release any document that has been poorly written. Furthermore, as noted in the oil company’s example above, non-effective or fanciful communication can prove to be dire for the life of an organization. Often times it is best to keep your message as simple and clear as possible.

What is the purpose of having dealings with others in today’s business world? The answer to this question could be answered any number of ways, and each answer will invariably include the term communication. Communication is not what we say, it is not how we say it; rather, good communication is based upon how we are heard, regardless of the form of genre. (Zoller & Preston, 2015) The message is not about the creator or author; it is about how the receiver(s) perceives the message and perceives the creator or author. Take the time to think about the outcome you are trying to achieve.

Written communication is not simply placing your thoughts and ideas on to paper. Writing clear, understandable, and professional messages can prove to be quite challenging, as well as time consuming. When your message is presented in a manner such that the recipient’s perception correlates to what was envisioned you have succeeded in communicating an intended message. Getting your intended message across to your audience, however, takes assiduous planning. The audience class or genre should be carefully considered to better transfer the intended message by taking the most appropriate approach. Remember that time, thought, and effort should be placed into each routine message you create.

In fact, studies show business professionals will spend up to 70% of their day wordsmithing their messages before sending it on to the intended recipient (Egan, 1995). That is the equivalent of over five and a half hours of an eight-hour work day which is devoted solely to writing. Unless writing is your sole responsibility, this leaves you with two and a half hours to accomplish tasks. How can we begin to decrease this shocking amount of time spent on our writing and still maintain quality and clarity?

Key Takeaway

  1. Communication involves taking the time to achieve an outcome. When your message is presented in a manner such that the recipient’s perception correlates to what was envisioned you have succeeded in communicating an intended message.


  1. Create a message quickly, without thought, trying to convey a message to a co-worker.  Now revisit your message and evaluate it for how you think the intended receiver will interpret it.  How can you construct the same message, applying thought and consideration to the content?


Egan, M. (1995). Total quality business writing. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 18(6), 34. Retrieved from

Zoller, K., & Preston, K. (2015). You said what?: The biggest communication mistakes professionals make. Wayne, NJ: Career Press, Inc.


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Business Writing: Theory, Process, and Application Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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