Writing Properly: Did You Write What You Meant?

Here’s the main difference between the written and the spoken word: When you speak, your voice communicates various nuances through tone. Therefore, the spoken word is subject to interpretation much more than the written word. Hence the frequently heard “Well I thought you meant…!” Well, what did I say? Perhaps more important – how did your words come across? The meaning of a sentence can be altered simply by emphasising a different word! People can also work out what you mean by interpreting the context when the spoken word is used. This can happen when the speaker communicates in a language in which they have a limited vocabulary.

The written word on the other hand is quite different. When we write, we often do so with emotion – we can feel our own tone of voice which is an expression of our feelings. But the reader can’t. The reader reads what he/she sees. So often we type a message to someone meaning one thing, but when they read it, they understand something different.

Some time ago I typed a text message to some friends as follows:



“Thought of doing the Spur or something similar for kids next Saturday eve. Let us know if you can join us…..”. My then 8 year old asked to see the text and then commented: “But I want to go to the Spur, Daddy. Why did you write – or something?” I then explained to her that if I was receiving that text and had an aversion to theSpur, I would have to reply “no thanks, we don’t do Spur”. But the purpose of the invite was to spend time with friends, so a suggestion was made, and the “or something” gave us all options. The only question remaining is – if they are free next Saturday evening, would they like to go out with us?

It’s worth noting that when you write an angry note to someone, the best thing to do is not to send it immediately. Wait until you’ve calmed down, then go back and read it. The best option is to read it the next day. Ask yourself just this question: How would I feel if I received this message. Then you’ll know whether you should send it as it is, or make alterations.

My key message is this. It’s very important to review what we write to ascertain if what we wrote is what we meant. If you can’t be sure, get another pair of eyes to check it for you. You may be pleased you did.

You may be able to deny you said something, but it’s difficult to take back what’s in writing.

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