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What It Means to Put the Reader at the Center in Professional Communication

This article originally appeared on Thrive Global.

Working remotely means having to communicate more through writing. But written communication can only be an effective method of sharing information and keeping teams connected when messages are easy to comprehend and the main takeaways are clear.

And that’s harder now than it used to be. Without easy access to direct in-person feedback, it can be difficult to know how your audience receives what you’ve written. According to recent Grammarly research, the experience of this difficulty is widespread: professionals find it challenging to know how they’re coming across to those reading their writing. They want to feel confident in knowing that their main points are clear and concise—that they are being understood.

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The search for confidence in professional communication only grows as companies consider permanent remote-work models or extend their remote-work periods. This is top of mind for us at Grammarly, where our team members can work remotely until at least August 2021. Our company focuses on building product offerings that help people be understood as they intend—on helping them refine how a message will be interpreted before it’s even shared. That means we’re always thinking critically about our own professional communication.

Here are three things I’ve learned to keep in mind when I write. I hope they can help other professionals navigating written communication today, tomorrow, and further into our remote-work future.

Your audience comes first

These days, writing often happens on the fly, and likely while juggling video calls and personal obligations all at once. When we move quickly through our work to check the box and move on to the next thing, we may not always stop to consider the recipient of our message.

Well-written, thoughtful communication makes your reader feel understood—it shows that you care. To make sure you’re not moving too quickly, think through the following:

Consider questions proactively: Before typing up your communication, think about the questions your reader might ask in response to your message. Putting the reader first in this way demonstrates that you considered their perspective and helps your message resonate.

Include personal touches: The easiest way to demonstrate that you care about your reader is to individualize your message. Build a rapport by including a personal anecdote or referencing an important recent achievement of the person you’re writing to.

Be yourself: In our new remote-work reality, many people are looking for just a little more of a humanizing quality in their work interactions. Make room in your writing to inject your personality so that your reader connects with the message on a personal level—plus, it can empower others to express themselves, too.

It’s how you say it—and how much

Ensuring that your communication lands as you want it to land also means having a grasp on what makes writing effective. In a remote work environment, we don’t have the luxury of reading the room or quickly clarifying key points with our colleagues.

To ensure that your message is received as intended, consider the following when reviewing your written draft:

Mind your sentence structure: Whether your message is understood can often depend on how you’ve organized your thoughts. Achieve optimal readability by striving for concise sentences and limiting wordy constructions.

Consider your tone: Make sure the tone of your written communication aligns with the context of the message. For example, an exciting personal announcement shouldn’t be written in a formal business tone, but a long-term employee’s departure likely warrants a message that conveys appropriate sincerity.

Remove redundancies: Even great writers are prone to making the same point multiple times in different ways. As you read over what you’ve written, ask yourself whether any of your points are redundant—or whether you’re using the same word too many times—and don’t be afraid to edit down considerably.

The devil is in the . . . formatting

In anything you write, you know best what information is most important. Don’t make your reader guess by burying your key points within big blocks of text.

For example, you may have a deadline-driven call to action that needs some context-setting. To ensure your reader doesn’t miss this information, direct their attention by formatting your key points differently.

Here are some tips to help you break through in your writing:

Lead with your key takeaways: Put your key takeaways at the start of each paragraph to ensure your reader quickly grasps essential information and doesn’t miss your main point. This will allow you to consistently support your takeaways with context but never bury the lead.

Bullet out consecutive ideas: When there are multiple key points you need your reader to understand, bullet them out to signal their importance. If you come across a run-on sentence with multiple commas, ask yourself whether that information could be better conveyed as a list.

Be bold: Bold important information—like deadlines and meeting times—that may otherwise be missed within your message. For a key takeaway that is absolutely essential to get across, you might go one step further and even add an underline.

>>READ MORE: How to Make Your Writing Concise and Clear

Over these past few months, written communication has steadily become more central to our working experience—and that trend is not ending any time soon. As our remote-work life continues developing, we all find ourselves searching for ways to be sure that we’re connecting with colleagues and making ourselves understood. I know I’m always developing in my understanding of how to communicate with colleagues in writing. I hope these tips I’ve shared can help professionals who are finding themselves in the same situation.

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