Writing and speaking differences

Essential to get it right in business

There are a few fundamental differences in the communication process when it is conducted in person, against written communication. They fall under three broad headings: language, attitude and feedback.

Language:

The language that is written to be read is different from the language that is written to be said. The main differences are:

  • Grammatical—spoken language is less correct
  • Repetition—spoken language uses more repetition, while written texts let you go back and read again what you might have missed
  • Sentence length—speech requires shorter sentences
  • Directness—speech requires you to get to the point of a sentence quicker
  • Vocabulary—written texts tend to have a higher level of vocabulary

Attitude:

Written texts are usually read in the absence of the author, and their meaning is coloured by the reader, not the author. Spoken texts are always coloured by the author’s delivery.

Spoken texts are more likely to be intended to influence the feelings as well as the thinking of the audience. They are therefore more likely to reveal the speaker’s intentions. Written texts can be more subtle.

The speaker can use oratorical devices such as repetition and rhythm to stir the emotions. Sound adds much to the effect of words, especially if the words also make powerful pictures in the minds of the listeners.

Feedback:

  • The speaker can see how the audience is reacting, and adjust his/her delivery.
  • The speaker can go back and explain in greater detail if necessary.
  • The writer cannot take back what has been written. The speaker can (sometimes) take back what might have caused misunderstanding or offence.

The speaker can be influenced by the listener more readily than the writer by the reader.

Although there are rules in common (for example, in following the sequence of Persuasion), it is essential to treat these two forms of verbal communication differently, both in the preparation and in the delivery.

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