Train Your Student Employees

Written Communication Module

It’s Public Record Now

Writing is almost as critical as verbal communication: emails, documents, procedures, and marketing require you to craft appropriate communication at work.

Step 1 – Learn

Read about good business writing.

Step 2 – Practice

Make corrections and suggestions on some sample writing provided.

Written Communication Module

Steps in this module:

  1. Learn: Read the following brief document.
  2. Apply new knowledge.
  3. Complete the reflection activity.

Step 1-Learn


Most jobs require that you communicate in writing. You will write down phone messages, leave notes for your colleagues, post a notice, and reply to the email. Your job may even be to write business letters to external customers.

In Module 1 – Verbal Communication – you learned the importance of verbal communication and choosing your words wisely. However, when you communicate in writing, the actual words are all you have to convey your meaning. Much more than verbal communication, communicating in writing depends on how you encode your message.

Qualities of Good Written Communication

Communicating effectively in writing requires attention to all aspects of the product: content, organization, tone, and appearance.

Regardless of the form of your written communication, it should follow these guidelines:

  • Composed correctly – Check your grammar and spelling. When in doubt, have your writing checked by an expert.
  • Clear – Read your text aloud to make sure it is understandable. It is even better to read it aloud to someone else.
  • Comprehensive – Double check to make sure all the important details are included
  • Accurate – Check all the details to make sure they are correct
  • Appropriate – Make sure you are using the proper tone and level of formality

Composing Email Messages

There are basic rules to follow when you write for work. The bottom line is that the email messages you send as employees will look very different from the emails you write to your friends.

Correct Composition

Your friends don’t care if you use complete sentences and words, correct grammar, and correct spelling. Your supervisor and colleagues do. The importance of correct spelling and proper grammar cannot be overemphasized.


It will not bother your friends if you send them a garbled message; it will bother your supervisor and colleagues if you send one to them. Proofread your message to make sure it says what you mean. Look for ambiguities.

Use these strategies to write clear messages:

  1. Don’t expect your reader to identify you from your email address. Identify yourself.
  2. Keep the message as focused and short as possible.
  3. Get to the point right away without being too curt.
  4. Use short paragraphs and bullets to break up long blocks of text. If you have multiple subjects in one message, number them, and start your letter by telling the reader the number of parts.
  5. Write a meaningful subject line that describes the content and gives your reader a reason to open your message. Avoid a generic subject, including the dramatic: “Important! Read Immediately!” What is important to you may not be necessary to your reader. Rather than announcing that your message is important, write an informative subject that communicates what is essential: “Emergency: All Cars in the Lower Lot Will Be Towed in One (1) Hour.”

TIP: Never, EVER, use the abbreviations you use to write text messages in your business email. Examples: u want ur boss r ur prof 2 to think u can rit?

The tone of your email can be easily misconstrued—especially when trying to be ironic or humorous. Be conscious of how your message is conveyed. If you are the reader, be aware that it is easy to read the wrong tone into the sender’s words. This issue causes relationship problems, misunderstandings, and communication breakdowns. Instead of judging the style for yourself, ask the sender to clarify the meaning.

TIP: Emoticons are out of place in business communication. Stick to the basics. 

Include all the important details. Email is different from text messaging. When texting, the participants expect back-and-forth exchanges. The readers of your work email will be annoyed if they have to email you back to get more information.


Mistakes in the information you send to your friends may not be a problem. They usually will be at work.


Your friends probably don’t expect you to start with a greeting (Dear Bob) or put your name after your message. Your supervisor will likely expect it. Check with them to see if they have a preference. 

Your friends will not hold it against you if you delay or forget to reply to one of their messages. Your supervisor and colleagues will. You will be expected to respond promptly and definitely within a day of receiving a work-related message.

You might get away with using off-color remarks or rude language in emails to your friends. It could get you fired if you use them for your work messages.

Use a simple presentation. Avoid fancy typefaces and do not depend upon the bold type, italics, or large type to add nuances. The recipient’s email reader may not have all your features. In a pinch, use asterisks to show *emphasis*.


When you receive a rude or angry note, do not reply right away. Negative emotions can escalate quickly in emails. If you get a cranky message, take your time to respond or pick up the phone and smooth things.

Do not expect privacy!! The network administrator has access to your information, but do not worry; that person is much too busy to be poking around in your business for no reason. However, if people in authority want to read your emails and share them with others, they can do it. Therefore, assume that all of your emails are public.

Leaving Notes and Phone Messages

Consider the following phone exchange:

Jan: Career Services. Jan speaking.

Caller: May I please speak with Dr. Brown?

Jan: Dr. Brown is not at his desk. May I take a message?

Caller: Sure. Tell him Jack called.

Jan: May I have your last name, please?

Caller: Jack Jones.

Jan: Would you like Dr. Brown to call you back?

Caller: No. I’ll call back later.

Jan: Are there any other details you’d like me to give him?

Caller: Tell him it’s about the meeting tonight.

Jan: Ok. So that’s Mr. Jones calling for Dr. Brown about tonight’s meeting, and you’ll call him back. Did I get it right?

Caller: Perfect! Thanks!

Jan: Thank you for calling, Mr. Jones.

Here is the message that Jan left:

March 15, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

To: Dr. Brown

Mr. Jack Jones called about tonight’s meeting. He will call back later.

Jan Smith

Jan did everything right when she took this message for Dr. Brown. Here’s the breakdown in terms of our goals.

Composition: Jan used complete sentences and spelled everything correctly.

Clarity: Jan respectfully asked the caller for details that made the message clearer, then she wrote the details briefly and clearly. She also made sure that Dr. Brown could read her handwriting.

Completeness: Jan included the date and time of the call and specified which meeting Mr. Jones was talking about. She also noted that Mr. Jones would call Dr. Brown back. She printed her full name in case Mr. Brown wanted to follow up with her.

Accuracy: Jan repeated what she had written to the caller after taking down the message to ensure she got it right.

Appropriateness: Jan’s communication was appropriate while she collected the information and when she wrote the note. Right off the bat, she identified the office and gave her name. She was respectful and appropriately formal but friendly. She wasn’t pushy when she asked for clarification. Her respectful attitude continued in the message.

TIP: Do your best to keep phone messages private. Whenever possible, please leave a phone message where the intended recipient and only the intended recipient can see it.

Communicating With Outside Clients

Clear written communication is especially important when writing to people outside your organization. Before you send a letter, invitation, announcement, bulk mailing, or other correspondence, consult someone whose writing skills you trust to review it for correct composition, clarity, completeness, accuracy, and appropriateness. Your supervisor (or the person on whose behalf you send the correspondence) should review it before it goes out. With outside mailings, the appearance of the documents is also of particular concern. Your supervisor or a colleague will show you the stationery and the format to follow.

Business letters have a unique format that includes the outside address (usually on the letterhead), the inside address, the salutation, the body, the closing, and the signature lines. The preparer often needs to identify and note any additional documents are accompanying the letter. Spacing between sections is also standardized.

In Closing

When writing to friends, it’s ok to use shortcuts like abbreviations (IMHO – in my humble opinion, or LOL – laugh out loud) and nonstandard punctuation and spelling. They are signs of casual intimacy, like sharing fries with a friend. You might seem disrespectful if you tried to share those same fries with a customer or a visiting dignitary. For the same reason, don’t use informal language when your reader expects formality. Always know the situation and write accordingly.

Want to learn more? Check out these online resources:

  1. Communication and Workplace Etiquette
  2. Tips for better business writing
  3. Email etiquette

Step 2 – Apply New Knowledge

Check your understanding of the concepts presented. Examine these examples of appropriate business communication.

You write a Thank-you email to a co-worker.

Subject line: Thank you!

Dear Jane,

Thank you for teaching me how to stock the salad bar yesterday. It was helpful to have someone with experience show me the ropes. I appreciate your taking the time away from your tasks to work with me.

I hope I can return the favor someday.



Your supervisor asks you to draft a letter about receiving an incomplete order

February 22, 20XX


123 Long Street

Los Angeles, CA 90089

Dear Customer Service:

We have just received delivery of order no. 123 placed with you on February 18. We regret to say, however, that the order is incomplete.

As you can see in the copy of the enclosed invoice, we requested 1000 clear-page protectors; however, the shipment we received contained only 400.

As a result of not receiving the full amount, we have not completed an important project. Therefore, we hope you will ship us the remaining 600 items immediately. If we do not receive them by Monday, we will be forced to cancel the order and buy them elsewhere.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.


John Smith

You write a note telling a co-worker about a change in procedures

February 21, 20XX


Mr. Su wanted me to tell you that we must leave the lobby lights on when we close up. He said it was a request from the security guard who patrols at night. Would you please let me know if you have any questions?


A lot of people on campus are enjoying Ultimate Frisbee. We play on Saturdays with Frisbees that USG provides. We want to get more people involved, so everyone is invited to this Friday’s Ultimate Frisbee marathon Saturday starting at 11:00 and lasting until 4:00 in Alumni Park. USG will provide the Frisbees.
You are supposed to re-shelve the books.
1. sup? I can’t work Friday. U can schedule me for another day. Tell me when.

2. I happen to like working with Sheila, but you put me with Bob. He sucks. I want to work with her.

3. You told me to file the papers, but I couldn’t find any. Since I couldn’t do it, I left.