Give a man a fish, he will eat today, but teach a man to fish and he will eat forever. – Ancient Chinese proverb.
The college admission season is here again. Like other years, several students and parents are stressed about writing high quality essays, motivation letters and statements of purpose. While their urgency is understandable, good writing skills are developed over time and provide a lifelong advantage. A beautifully written essay may help a student create a compelling story for their university admissions. A mediocre work product with unclear thoughts and grammatical errors may affect a young professionals’ chances for promotion.
Over the years I have had a chance to interact with many students and young professionals from different parts of the world. I have been impressed with the general awareness and the logical reasoning skills displayed by Indian (and other Asian) students. In general, their knowledge of the world, its history, our environment and the sciences is higher than students from other geographies. I have also observed that the logical reasoning and math skills of Indian students are usually quite strong. However, one area of opportunity that I have noted with many students pertains to their written and/or verbal communication. While some schools require writing as a part of their curriculum (extended essay required by International Baccalaureate, IB), most students do not get this practice. The time spent during school and college to enhance your communication skills is a worthwhile investment. The effort in improving your communication skills pays dividends throughout life. After all, if a man (or woman) learns how to fish, he will eat forever.
The crucial part of any communication is relevant content and a good delivery. Content that is of interest to the audience and easy to understand creates a positive impact. We will explain with a couple of examples.
Example 1, while writing an essay to explain their suitability for college or a job, the student may either use multiple life experiences or describe a single situation in depth. What experience(s) they would like to cover is a personal choice and requires deep introspection. It is crucial for the student to be genuine and discuss something that is important to them. Once they know what they want to present, they should take plenty of time (and drafts) to arrive at their final work product. An objective summary should be provided to draw out the effect of the incident/situation/experience on thought process and motivation of the student.
Example 2, while preparing a budget proposal (or a research paper or an investment thesis), it is important to provide the answer upfront (summary) and then support it using the facts and your analysis. The answer may be repeated at the end (conclusion) of the communication. The relevant facts and the analysis quality are crucial to the effectiveness of such communications.
At Scholarly, we see many examples of good thoughts with shabby packaging to know that written communication is a major problem for most students and young professionals. Provided below are some guidelines on how to structure your thoughts and communications better.
Before you put the pen to paper, it is important to Define; 1) Your audience and what is relevant for them, 2) What you want to accomplish with the communication and 3) The available space and/or time (pages, minutes, words). In some cases, like a research paper (or a budget recommendation) you may want to state your objectives upfront. In others, you may tell a story and lead the reader towards your objectives. Once you have completed an initial draft, it should be reviewed keeping your audience, your objective, and the available space/time in mind.
We now come to the Structure or the main body of the communication. The effective communication style in dealing with decision makers (admission officers, deans, interviewers, investors, or executive management) is to quickly cut to the chase. These are busy people with time pressures, and it is better to provide the solution upfront. You can then support your answer with the relevant facts and analysis. For ease of reading, the different facts and background information should be provided in separate paragraphs or sections. Since the audience has already seen the answer, they understand why they are reading the background information. At the end of the communication there should be a conclusion that reiterates the initial summary along with some additional support based on the background information. This serves to refresh the answer and the key points in the audience’s mind.
The third element of effective communication is the Style. This refers to elements like grammar, vocabulary, and sentence formation. Depending on their vocabulary, education and experience, people have vastly different writing styles. Authors (like P.G. Wodehouse) take the style to different dimension and it’s enjoyable reading them just for their style.
Fortunately, for regular business communication a lower level of style is the norm and quite acceptable. Our suggestion for students and young professionals is to keep it simple; 1) use short sentences, 2) use words that you are comfortable with, 3) don’t repeat words in the same or in adjacent sentences, 4) don’t end sentences with prepositions and 5) use a spell check and grammar check. The common mistakes that we often notice are, a) use of long and confusing sentences, b) incorrect usage of a difficult word and 3) repetitive usage of a word. As you continue to write and expand your vocabulary, your style will evolve. If you just adhere to the basics of Style while focussing more on the Define and Structure elements above, you will create quality communication.
Written communication is an important life skill that is crucial for university admissions, landing your dream job and for upward mobility at the workplace. To reiterate, the most important part of any communication is relevant content and the overall message. Strong written communication skills allow better packaging and effective delivery of that content.
Vivek Bhandari is the Chief Executive and Co-founder of Scholarly. He holds a B.Tech from IIT Delhi and a MBA from IIM Calcutta. Vivek has worked extensively in financial services, real estate and mortgages space in the USA, Europe, and India. He is passionate about education and use of innovative technologies to make the best education accessible across the globe. You can find Vivek on LinkedIn.
Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. Our recommendations are based on the student’s field of interest, academic performance, financial resources, and career plans. We provide SAT and ACT classes from the best instructors to help achieve high scores and improve the prospects for admission to their dream university.
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