Written by Jeanie Bryant, BSEd, BSAg, coordinator for the Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health
What are important strategies to consider for effective, written communication? In a recent skills training workshop for students in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track, Steven Pijut, MA, associate director of The Writing Center at WashU, provided helpful information about communicating via email.
According to Pijut, the “rhetorical triangle” is a starting point in writing and communication and includes an audience, speaker and topic. When composing emails, it is imperative to take the time to read the email before you hit the send button. He also suggested that for awkward emails or those that require some “finesse”, print the email and read it out loud. Individuals are usually better editors of hard copies, and reading it out loud slows you down and helps your ear with what your eye doesn’t catch. Another strategy is to get another set of eyes on your email before you send it. He mentioned that the set of eyes should belong to a person whom you trust and identify as a safe audience – someone who can be critical but is going to give constructive criticism.
Pijut pointed out that emails are different from texting, and that an email is like a mini business letter and should have the following:
- Greeting (use the formal title of the recipient (e.g. Dr. Smith) until that person returns an email identifying themselves with first name only)
- Body (include all of the information so the audience understands the next step)
- Closing (signature to contain writer’s name, title, affiliation)
The subject line of an email is also important. Individuals often choose to open and respond to emails based on the subject line. A subject line of “Meeting” lacks context and may be missed or even ignored. Pijut suggested trying instead something like “Staff Meeting: October 2, 4 p.m.”
Finally, Pijut mentioned that you should think about who your email might get forwarded to. University accounts belong to the University- not to the individual faculty, staff and students. This also applies to anyone outside of the university as you never know who might end up seeing an email, so you should remain professional and courteous at all times.
Strategies for how to write an effective blog post were also discussed in the training workshop by Kim Furlow, communications manager at the Institute for Public Health. Furlow is responsible for planning and executing both the internal and external communications strategies, branding, news and promotional content for the Institute and its seven centers and initiatives. She pointed out that blog posts can be great for online portfolios and resumes, and that they are a tool for perfecting one’s writing skills.
Pijut and Furlow provided a very informative workshop, and the tips and strategies were a great refresher for anyone involved in writing professional communications!