Written communication – the demise

A recurring theme in my recent columns has been about the negative side of technology and the need to consider how to adjust our use and minimise its impact. I ask your forbearance if I highlight one more example, which is ubiquitous in our day-to-day work activities: email.

At university, one of the courses I didn’t do as well in as I might have hoped was the first-year course in Engineering Drawing. I enjoyed doing it but my drawings were never quite as good as the other students, mainly due to the rubbing out. However, the skills I learnt have stood me in good stead ever since. The easy access to CAD software packages means that everyone can, and a lot do, produce their own drawings. But having access to CAD and a large screen doesn’t remove the need to know how to construct drawings. So it is with the new (well, relatively new) communications technology: they are just aids to transmitting and receiving the communication and do not remove the need to know how best to actually communicate and how to tailor the message to the receiver.

Unfortunately, we have become transfixed by the mode of transmission, ignoring the fact that humans have built up complex communication techniques, of which the spoken word is a small part and the written word is the verbal word without the intonations, timbres, emphases and pauses removed. Am I passionate about this topic or am I just writing because I have a column to produce? Tweets are succinct. As shown above, the limit on characters imposes a discipline, making you think about how best to phrase the message. Generally, this limit also imposes a distinction in how business and personal messages are constructed. On the other hand, the very flexibility of emails, as described above, opens a Pandora’s box of traps and pitfalls.

The convenience and speed of use has seduced us into: not taking care with the salutation, even though the correct name may be in the email received or the address box (as shown above); sending to all and sundry – just in case; not getting up and going to speak to people, even though they may be close by; taking the easy option and avoiding talking to people on the phone; writing a message and pressing send, just to get rid of the issue to someone else; and misinterpreting what has been written and the intent of the message.

The overuse of emails impacts on our productivity and our health, see http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5424. The headlines from the survey quoted are: reading and replying to emails takes up 28% of the day; workers use 40% of the day dealing with internal emails that add no business value; and restricting when workers are allowed to look at emails reduced their stress levels. Let me know what you think – send me, or the editor, an email!

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of Amec Foster Wheeler or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Newton Building, St George’s Avenue, Northampton NN2 6JB. Fax: 01604 89 3861; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrathfw@amec.com

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