Introduction to Professional Communication
The seven “C”s are simply seven words that begin with “C” that characterize strong professional style. Applying the seven “C”s of professional communication will result in writing that can be described with these strengths:
CLEAR writing involves knowing what you want to say before you say it because a lack of clarity often comes from unclear thinking or poor planning; this, unfortunately, leads to confused or annoyed readers. Clear writing conveys the purpose of the document immediately to the reader; it matches vocabulary to the audience, avoiding jargon and unnecessarily technical or obscure language while, at the same time, being precise. In clarifying your ideas, ensure that each sentence conveys one idea and that each paragraph thoroughly develops one unified concept.
COHERENT writing ensures that the reader can easily follow your ideas and your train of thought. One idea should lead logically into the next through the use of transitional words and phrases, structural markers, planned repetition, sentences with clear subjects, headings that are clear, and effective and parallel lists. Writing that lacks coherence often sounds “choppy” and ideas seem disconnected or incomplete. Coherently connecting ideas is like building bridges between islands of thought so the reader can easily move from one idea to the next.
CONCISE writing uses the fewest words possible to convey the most meaning while still maintaining clarity. Avoid unnecessary padding, awkward phrasing, overuse of “to be” forms (is, are, was, were, am, be, being), long preposition strings, vagueness, unnecessary repetition, and redundancy. Use active verbs whenever possible and take the time to choose a single word rather than a long phrase or cliché expression. Think of your word count like a budget; be cost effective by making sure every word you choose does effective work for you. Cut a word; save a buck! As William Zinsser asserts, “the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”
CONCRETE writing involves using specific, precise language to paint a picture for your readers so that they can more easily understand your ideas. If you have to explain an abstract concept or idea, try to use examples, analogies, and precise language to illustrate it. Use measurable descriptors whenever possible; avoid vague terms such as “big” or “good.” Try to get your readers to “see” your ideas by using specific terms and descriptions.
CORRECT writing uses standard punctuation, sentence structure, capitalization, spelling, and grammar. Being correct also means providing accurate information, as well as using the right document type and form for the task. (Note that some of these points vary by country. For example, punctuation marks and spelling varies between Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries. Use the style that your audience expects for their home country.)
COMPLETE writing includes all requested information and answers all relevant questions. The more concrete and specific you are, the more likely your document will be complete, as well. Review your checklist of specifications before submitting your document to its intended reader.
COURTEOUS writing entails designing a reader-friendly, easy-to-read document. It uses tactful language and appropriate modes of addressing the audience and avoids potentially offensive terminology and tone. Without courtesy you cannot be constructive.
In some cases, some of these might come into conflict: what if being too concise results in a tone that sounds terse or an idea that seems incomplete? Figure 1 illustrates one method of putting all the seven “C”s together.
Be mindful of the tradeoffs and always give priority to being clear: writing that lacks clarity cannot be understood and therefore cannot achieve its purpose. Writing that adheres to the seven “C”s helps to establish your credibility as a professional writer.
Here is a prioritization of the seven “C”s:
- Clear: Plan ahead! Know your purpose and convey your ideas in a unified manner.
- Coherent: Organize your thoughts in a logical, structured progression.
- Concise: Budget your words wisely; ensure your writing contains only what’s necessary.
- Concrete: Use specific and precise language; use measurable descriptors and avoid vague language.
- Correct: Adhere to proper grammar, punctuation, and document structure.
- Complete: Give all the important information and answer all relevant questions.
- Courteous: Format so that the document is easy to read. Use appropriate and tactful language.
A note about writing tone
The subject of comes up frequently in this textbook, as it should. An important point to add here is that different documents and different audiences will require writers to employ different tone in their writing. This also means writing in different voices, such as the first person or third person.
In the first person voice, the document is written from the voice of the author, using “I” and “me” pronouns in the writing. For example, in this textbook, I have liberally used the first person at times to better engage you (that’s the second person) and draw you into the learning experience.
However, in many professional documents, only the third person is used; that’s when the voice of the document never uses “I” or “me” or “you” or other first and second person pronouns. Instead, this author would refer even to himself using third person pronouns, with the same treatment to the reader (as can be seen in this paragraph).
Generally, letters are written in the first and second person, while reports are in the third person. Memos have some flexibility, but are best in the third person.
Other tone considerations have to do with emotional connection. Is the reader somebody you want to show affection or seriousness? Is the topic casual or important? Is the text offering praise or criticism? Does the document have a sense of urgency? Is the document giving instructions or asking permission? Considerations such as these will help a writer determine the tone they need to set in their document.
Blank, G.K. (2015). Wordiness, wordiness, wordiness list. http://web.uvic.ca/~gkblank/wordiness.html
Zicari, A. & Hildemann, J. (n.d.). Figure 2.2.1. BCcampus. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/technicalwriting/chapter/communicatingprecision/#footnote-482
Zinsser, W. (n.d.). Simplicity. http://www.geo.umass.edu/faculty/wclement/Writing/zinsser.html
This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last (on BCcampus). It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
- W. Zinsser, “Simplicity,” [Online]. Available: http://www.geo.umass.edu/faculty/wclement/Writing/zinsser.html ↵
the attitude of a communicator toward the message being delivered and/or the audience receiving the message