General Guidelines and Principles for Good Communication
Form of communication
- Think first about the most appropriate form of communication for the message: electronic; a printed report; meetings; face-to-face; telephone; etc. For example, email is not a substitute for face-to-face communication, especially for 'difficult', sensitive, personal, confidential or 'performance-related' messages.
- Be specific about the intended recipients (eg: 'To members of University Teaching and Learning Committee' rather than 'dear all...').
- Use an appropriate form of address, bearing in mind the business relationship and the context.
- Copy in others only where necessary.
- Take care with 'blind copying'. It is usually best to be transparent about recipients.
- 'Mass' messages to all staff should always be checked and sent by a person of appropriate authority.
Clarity of information and purpose
- Make it clear what the communication is about. The key elements of information should be quickly and readily accessible at the start so that readers can easily determine the purpose, importance and relevance of the information. This should be clear from the subject line of an email, or in a summary statement at the start of a report. Detailed information should be provided as a web-link or as appendices, rather than being included in the main message.
- Keep all communications as short, straightforward and clear as possible, using plain English.
- Make it clear whether the communication requires any action. Is it for interest, information, action, further dissemination (or not) or for a response?
- Make it clear to whom any response should be sent, and the timescale for doing so.
- The author or originator and date of a message or report should always be included.
Style and content
- Use an appropriate style and tone for the context. If in doubt, err on the side of formality.
- Remember that grammar, spelling, punctuation and proof-reading are important (including in emails).
- Avoid use of over-technical language (especially for a non-expert audience).
- Always explain any acronyms when used for the first time in a communication.
- Check that web-links do work, and that they take readers to the correct part of the document or site.
- Think carefully about what you intend to say, especially for 'instant' communications such as email or telephone.
- Plan ahead and take account of other schedules (eg meetings which need to take place before a response can be given). Try to be aware of other communications and priorities which may affect recipients' capacity to respond. Avoid use of 'urgent' flags on emails unless it really is urgent.
- Set realistic response timescales to allow for a considered response.
- Always bear in mind that any communication could reach an unintended audience. Think about data protection / confidentiality / freedom of information and online security.
- Delete previous email correspondence unless it is essential to understanding. Remember it can contain confidential information or comments which are not for further dissemination.
- Check the content of attachments, including 'hidden' comments or data, 'track changes' or confidential information.
Quick reference: the following should be immediately identifiable:
- The intended recipient(s) of the message
- The author / originator and the date
- The subject matter and the key points
- Any action required and the timescale for doing so
...and remember to include 'please' and 'thank you'...