Keys to Transparent Communication

L. Michelle BakerL. Michelle Baker, Ph.D.
441 Walina Street, Apt. 703
Honolulu, HI 96815
304 283 4573
Author: Writing in the Environmental Sciences: A Seven-Step Guide

You read a lot of government documents. Some of them require an extra cup of coffee to get you motivated. After a couple of paragraphs, you realize you’ve lost track of the content, so you have to go back and re-read some portions you missed. When asked to summarize, you return to the document, only to find yourself questioning the key points you thought you had understood and reversing your opinion a few times before you really gain clarity into the writer’s argument.

On the other hand, other items you read are crystal clear, so much so that you can practically skim them and get exactly what you need. The information is easy to access, and its relevance to your work is obvious. Even the tone is personal, so that you feel the paper was written by someone rather than an agency or department.

What’s the difference? How did one become so unreadable and another so engaging when both are written about basically the same technical, regulatory material? More importantly, what type of document will you write the next time you’re charged with crafting a Decision Memorandum or a briefing paper or public correspondence?

Transparent communication may not be as simple to churn out as obscure bureaucratic boilerplate, but neither is it a mystery of the writer’s guild. We start by having a clear understanding of our audience, our context, and our purpose. I realize that in government writing, these are often multi-faceted, so I have designed numerous exercises to help you work with your supervisors and peers to discover them for the different documents you write.

Once you feel grounded in the material you need to convey, to whom, and why, you can plan a strategy for how. That strategy needs to include a few basics that some of us left behind when we graduated, and that some of us were never taught – basics like topic sentences, clearly structured paragraphs, consistent subject and verb patterns, and the mechanics of government writing.

These are the strategies that make communication transparent. I look forward to showing you how to use them so your next writing project will be a pleasure to read as well as to write.

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