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Questionnaire: Is Your Vocabulary Appropriate for Recipients?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 22 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Letters Recipient Vocabulary Word Choice

Matching chosen vocabulary to the language skills of the reader is essential for a written communication to be understood. Letters in particular require appropriate vocabulary for the reader as they tend to be short and to the point, with little room for extra explanations.

To make sure that you use appropriate vocabulary for your letter recipients we have put together the following questionnaire to help you reflect on your word choices. Answer each question honestly, then total your “yes” answers and match the number to the explanations at the end to find out if you routinely use appropriate vocabulary in your letters.

1. Do you keep your recipients in mind with each letter you write?
2. Do you think about the length of words you include in your letters?
3. Do you prefer words in common usage when writing your letters?
4. Do you avoid using industry jargon in letters to anyone other than colleagues?
5. Do you avoid current slang terms in your letters?
6. If you use older slang terms, are you sure the recipient will recognise them?
7. Do you refer to a style guide or manual for formal letters?
8. If you are uncertain of vocabulary, do you refer to a dictionary or thesaurus?
9. Do you pay attention to your tone when you make a word choice?
10. Do you proofread your letters for spelling and typos prior to posting them?
Do you ask others to read important letters prior to posting them?
Do you allow important letters to sit for a few days before re-reading and posting?

Is Your Vocabulary Appropriate for Letter Recipients?

Yes to between zero and four questions

Your vocabulary is not likely appropriate for your letter recipients. You probably put little effort into matching your word choices to your intended recipients, and instead may write simply to please yourself. While this can be fun, not to mention easy, it doesn’t necessarily help you make your points in a clear, concise manner. In the future think about your recipient prior to writing each new letter. How does (s)he speak? What type of slang does (s)he use? Is (s)he an avid reader? Have you hear him or her use certain vocabulary before? Answering all of these questions will help you craft a letter with appropriate word choices for the best chance of being understood.

Yes to between five and eight questions

Your vocabulary may be appropriate for your letter recipients. It is likely, however, that you are being misunderstood as often as you are understood because your word choices are not thoughtful at all times. Review your past communications with an individual as well as his or her responses to you. What type of vocabulary have you used in the past, and what words has (s)he used in letters? Do you both understand industry or personally specific jargon and slang? Do you recognise the meaning of words you each use to answer questions? What is the tone of each of your letters? Taking into account how your letter recipient chooses to communicate in written messages should help you better select appropriate vocabulary when writing to him or her.

Yes to nine or more questions

It is likely your vocabulary is appropriate for your letter recipients. You probably put a great deal of thought into who you are writing too and how (s)he best communicates before you begin drafting a letter. You also likely use resources like spell check, dictionaries and thesauri to make sure that you include no inadvertent mistakes prior to posting a letter. If you don’t already, allow others to proofread important letters and then allow them to sit for a few days before you send them. This will give you the chance to catch mistakes you didn’t even consider as well as return to a letter later to make sure you understand the meaning even in a new frame of mind.

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I found your website to be most interesting and on the whole of great benefit to those who have to produce written work in one form or another, perhaps a dissertation or thesis as well as informal writing.However, it was disappointing to find a very common spelling error in your page on appropriate vocabulary.You write of putting '...a great deal of thought into who you are writing too...'.This should, of course, be '...writing to...'.You also speak of careful consideration and perusal of a piece of writing for the purpose of '...catching mistakes you don't even consider' .Hoist on your own petard, I think!Even a spell checker will not catch that one.My working life was spent as a Secretary/PA and I do have an eagle eye for spelling errors, and lapses in grammar.Apologies for my impertinence!!
Rubes - 20-Jun-11 @ 4:43 PM
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