Years ago, I taught Business Writing at a male maximum-security prison in Minnesota. Our goal was to provide training that people could use when they were released from prison and were job searching.
At the end of the quarter, one student asked, as he was leaving the room for the last time: “What is good writing, anyway?” ZING! I realized then that my grade for the class would have been an “F” for “Failure to Communicate.”
From that point forward, I have used the first hour of any writing class to define that good writing is Complete, Consistent, Clear, Concise, and Correct, and it must be all five of these in any given communication. We’ve all known people who were overly Complete in violation of being Concise. On the other hand, parents of teens know how Concise a teen can be at the expense of Complete, Clear, or Correct when communicating with an adult:
“Where did you go?”
“What did you do?”
(“Nothing” in this context might mean, “I totalled the car” or “I toilet-papered Brittany’s house,” events which only reveal themselves through communication with the police or other parents.)
Of course, three great communicative words you should always use freely are, “I love you.” Yep, those are great words.
But there are other three-word wonders: “Tell me more…” For example, if your boss asks you to write a report on the XYZ issue and you have no idea what to write, ask, “Can you tell me more about what you want in the report?” Or if your child asks, “Where did I come from?” instead of launching into a detailed description of human reproduction, you might ask, “Can you tell me more about what you want to know?” (The answer may be, “Well, Tommy came from Chicago. Where did I come from?” Bingo! You just saved yourself “The Talk,” if only for the moment.)
I had a boss once who varied the “tell me more” phrase by saying, “Help me understand…” Steve’s communication skills validated employees because those words implied that he really wanted to know what we really wanted to tell him.
When you use phrases like these to get as much information as you can before you write any document, you’ll be much more Complete in all your communication.