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Complete. Self-explanatory right? Understanding what it means is simple. But making certain that your communications are complete, isn't as simplistic. Once, I received a letter asking me to speak in a conference. It told me where the conference would be, how many attendees were expected, what my topic would be, what the room provided, what my stipend would be, and by when the committee needed my answer. Did you notice that the date of the conference was missing? That was a vital piece of information.
Why are messages sent with incomplete information? One reason is that we forget that the reader doesn't know all the information we do. You know what you know and my not consider that the reader doesn't necessarily know the same information. Think about this example. You send this email to your fellow meeting attendees. Just a reminder that our monthly meeting Friday will begin promptly at 10. Be sure to bring your latest sales figures and come prepared to discuss the 3 products for which I've attached updated changes.
As always, bagels and coffee will be provided. At 10:15, Cory, last month's promising new hire arrives. Obviously stressed and out of breath. Your immediate thought is that being late to the first meeting is not a good way to begin. Cory quickly explains that he had spent the previous 20 minutes trying to locate the meeting room. What happened? You and all the other team members knew where the meeting would be held, where it had always been held.
But Cory having never attended one of these meetings, needed that crucial bit of information. The nature cause of incomplete writing is assuming or forgetting to analyze what your reader does and doesn't know. What can be done to be certain your communication is complete. Try to think like your reader. Even though that can be difficult, the more you know and can learn about your reader the more you can try to think like that reader. Ask yourself these questions, what is the primary purpose of the message? The most important point I need my reader to remember.
What information must the message include. Foe example, ask the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. What does the audience already know about the situation? Will my reader need some background information or has he been part of all previous discussions or negotiations? What does my reader want to know and/or need to know? How does the information impact the reader? What should the reader do with the information? Additionally, what actions do you want from the reader? Is a follow-up necessary or is the message just to provide information.
If follow-up is necessary, how is it to be shared? Call a meeting, send an email, or write a report. Also asked if you've worked with this reader before? Do we have a working relationship so I know how the reader will react to the message. Will the reader have a positive, neutral or negative reaction? To help you analyze if your message is complete you might have someone who is unfamiliar with the situation, read your message to see if he or she has any questions about what you are saying.
If possible write your message and then put it aside for even 10 or 15 minutes and then reread it to help you identify holes in the message. Keep trying to see the message through you readers eyes and ask all those important questions so that you can be certain the message is complete.
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