The written word often stands in place of the spoken word. People often say "it was good to hear from you" when they receive an email or a letter, when in fact they didn’t hear the message— they read it. Still, if they know you well, they may mentally "hear" your voice in your written words.
Writing a message to friends or colleagues can be as natural as talking to them. Yet when we are asked to write something, we often feel anxious and view writing as a more effortful, exacting process than talking would be.
Oral and written forms of communication are similar in many ways. They both rely on the basic communication process, which consists of eight essential elements:
|Element of Communication||Definition||Oral Application||Written Application|
|Source||A source creates and communicates a message.||Jay makes a telephone call to Heather.||Jay writes an email to Heather.|
|Receiver||A receiver receives the message from the source.||Heather listens to Jay.||Heather reads Jay’s email.|
|Message||The message is the stimulus or meaning produced by the source for the receiver.||Jay asks Heather to participate in a conference call at 3:15.||Jay’s email asks Heather to participate in a conference call at 3:15.|
|Channel||A channel is the way a message travels between source and receiver.||The channel is the telephone.||The channel is email.|
|Feedback||Feedback is the message the receiver sends in response to the source.||Heather says yes.||Heather replies with an email saying yes.|
|Environment||The environment is the physical atmosphere where the communication occurs.||Heather is traveling by train on a business trip when she receives Jay’s phone call.||Heather is at her desk when she receives Jay’s email.|
|Context||The context involves the psychological expectations of the source and receiver.||Heather expects Jay to send an email with the call-in information for the call. Jay expects to do so, and does.||Heather expects Jay to dial and connect the call. Jay expects Heather to check her email for the call-in information so that she can join the call.|
|Interference||Also known as noise, interference is anything that blocks or distorts the communication process.||Heather calls in at 3:15, but she has missed the call because she forgot that she is in a different time zone from Jay.||Heather waits for a phone call from Jay at 3:15, but he doesn’t call.|
As you can see from the applications in this example, at least two different kinds of interference have the potential to ruin a conference call, and the interference can exist regardless of whether the communication to plan the call is oral or written.
Another way in which oral and written forms of communication are similar is that they can be divided into verbal and nonverbal categories.
Verbal communication involves the words you say, and nonverbal communication involves how you say them: your tone of voice, your facial expression, your body language, and so forth.
Written communication also involves verbal and nonverbal dimensions. The words you choose are the verbal dimension. How you portray or display them is the nonverbal dimension, which can include the medium (email or a printed document), the typeface or font, or the appearance of your signature on a letter.
When you send and/or receive nonverbal communication, it is important you use your self and social awareness skill to be aware of those actions and what they can mean.
In this sense, oral and written communication are similar in their approach, even as they are quite different in their application.
The written word allows for a dynamic communication process between source and receiver, but is often asynchronous, meaning that it occurs at different times.
When we communicate face-to-face, we get immediate feedback, but our written words stand in place of that interpersonal interaction and we lack that immediate response. Since we are often not physically present when someone reads what we have written, it is important that we anticipate the reader’s needs, interpretation, and likely response to our written messages.
As the business communicator, you must focus on the words you use and how you use them. Short, simple sentences, in themselves composed of words, also communicate a business style. In your previous English classes, you may have learned to write eloquently, but in a business context, your goal is clear, direct communication. One strategy to achieve this goal is to write with the same words and phrases you use when you talk.
However, since written communication lacks the immediate feedback that is present in an oral conversation, you need to choose words and phrases even more carefully to promote accuracy, clarity, and understanding.
Source: This content has been adapted from Lumen Learning's "Oral versus Written Communication" tutorial.