There are distinct differences in environment when communicating orally vs. through writing. When communicating orally, the environment in which the message is given remains largely stable and controlled in the sense that all people listening are in the same space, at the same time, and with the same level (or lack thereof) of interference or distraction. This is not always the case with written communication though.
Handwritten or even digital items may not be opened immediately by the receiver. While the outgoing communication may be sent from a calm office environment, it might not be received until hours later in a much different surrounding (like on a busy commuter train or even at home with a screaming toddler in the background). Consequently, the nature of the message going out and the environment in which it can or even should be received should heavily inform which avenue of communication you choose to relay your message.
- Stable, controlled environment
- Unpredictable environment
Ponder and Record
- In what situations might the environment play a bigger role in how a message is received?
- Think of one request you think might be better communicated in person and one that could be sent just fine via email. What kind of request might that be?
Another way written and oral communication differ from one another is in the immediacy of feedback. When you are having a conversation with a person face to face, you can see and read into things like tone, body language, and other social gestures. You can tell if what you are saying is being received well or not. You can then begin altering your message to better suit and appeal to what you are learning about your audience—and do it in real time!
On the other hand, written communication comes with a delay in feedback. There is no way to predict how long it will take for the communication to be received or responded to. Written communication also doesn’t allow for easy and swift modifications of words and tone based on how the message is received. The tone of an email cannot be altered once it has been sent out, and the same goes for all other forms of written communication.
Much like you learned with environment, the feedback factor is simply another component to consider when choosing the best method of communication.
- Immediate feedback
- Adaptable message
- Benefit of social cues
- Delayed feedback
- Permanent message
- Lack of social cues
Ponder and Record
- In what situations might immediate feedback be vital to successful communication?
- In what situations might immediate feedback not be as important to successful communication?
Context is another important difference to take into consideration when deciding how to communicate. When speaking to a person face to face, you can show, not just describe, what you are trying to communicate.
Some types of communication do not require much showing. The context of the message might be familiar to the receiver or quite self-explanatory (like letting someone know that a business report has been completed and then attaching it to the email for their review). Other messages might require a bit more context to be communicated clearly though.
For example—imagine for a moment that you are a seasoned employee at a certain company (an expert in that company’s professional community) and that you have been asked to train a new employee. Part of that training involves teaching this new employee how to use a computer program that is entirely unfamiliar to her. How easy would it be to train this employee remotely and in writing rather than orally and in person? How many pages of notes, pictures, descriptive words, and written exchanges would it take to walk this employee through the steps of locating the program, logging in, gaining familiarity with all the functions, etc.? How might that compare to a simple sit down meeting with this employee in front of your own computer? How much simpler and more efficient might that communication be?
Again, though this is not the only thing that sets written and oral communication apart, it is definitely one difference to consider alongside the rest when selecting a communication strategy.
- Allows for showing, not just telling
- Easier to give context
- Relies solely on description (telling)
- More difficult to provide context
Ponder and Record
- What specific situations might require a face-to-face conversation over one in writing? List one situation where writing would be the preferred method of communication and one in which oral communication would be preferred.
One of the final differences between oral and written communication is the style in which it is delivered.
Oral communication tends to be much simpler. Sentences are shorter and word choice is more universal (with less professional community specific jargon). Good oral communication also tends to contain lots of repetition as the short term or working memory is incapable of holding onto orally transmitted information for longer than a couple of minutes. In consequence, oral communication tends to have to circle back around and summarize main points throughout the dialogue in a way that written communication does not have to.
Written communication, on the other hand, while sharing the desirable qualities of needing to be clear and concise, tends to be much more rich and complex. Ideas are generally shared in paragraph form and with industry specific vocabulary and jargon. While grammar and punctuation take a backseat in oral communication (replaced by things like tone, inflection, and hand gestures), written communication requires a certain level of professionalism and grammatical correctness. Commas placed in incorrect places or a lack of periods to separate sentences could quite literally lead to a misinterpretation of information. At its worst, poor written communication also tends to result in a kind of informal rejection from the professional community that you are intending to join. In order to be accepted as an equal into a professional community, you must learn to speak (and write) in the language of that industry. Failure to show this mastery could result in some pretty negative consequences when it comes to career advancement, so it is definitely a skill that you will want to take the time to study and master.
- Shorter sentences
- More universal word choice
- Repetition and summarization
- More complex
- Longer sentences and paragraphs
- Professional community specific jargon
- Grammatical correctness
Ponder and Record
- What are some stylistic differences between written and oral communication? List a few.
Need More Help?
- Study other Writing Lessons in the Resource Center.
- Visit the Online Tutoring Resources in the Resource Center.
- Contact your Instructor.
- If you still need help, Schedule a Tutor.