WHEN you are talking to someone face-to-face, you have lots of visual cues to help you - your tone of voice, gestures, movement and eye contact.

It may not be fair, but in the everyday world you are judged and influenced by all these criteria and more - even your occupation, height, dress and the way you look.

Like it or not, it is through the way you speak and look that you earn trust and confidence.

So, with none of these visual cues present in your written communication, how do you earn trust and confidence when you write letters, reports or e-mails?

In written communication, especially e-mail, you have to find other ways to evaluate the person who is "speaking" (writing). You do that by looking at "style".

Improve your "style"

Style in written communication does not mean wearing a designer suit to do all your most important writing.

Style means attention to proper spelling and punctuation, proper sentence construction instead of non-sentences, and spelling out words in full, instead of abbreviations suitable only for SMS.

Style means being creative in what you write and how you write. It also means making your communication look visually attractive by leaving a line space between paragraphs, adding numbered points or bullets and using headings of a consistent size. Style also means considering the appropriate tone and structuring your message logically.

I recently did a follow-up workshop for a client who had run my business writing workshop two months earlier. I asked the participants what had changed since we met. They told me proudly:

* We get straight to the point, using everyday language instead of beating about the bush with old-fashioned, useless phrases.

* Our messages are structured more logically so the reader can clearly see the action needed.

* We try to avoid the passive phrases we used to use like "Please be advised", "Please be reminded" or "Please find attached".

* We seem more approachable because our language is less formal and more friendly.

Reap the benefits

These participants told me that paying attention to how they write has saved their time and increased efficiency. They felt that being more organised in their writing has helped to enhance understanding, avoid miscommunication, and increase their professional image.

In particular, they felt relationships had improved, and there was much better rapport with both internal and external customers.

How great can that be? I felt like shouting out "whoo hoo"!

The consequences

As a result of changing the way they write, what was the upshot? Here are some of the points they mentioned:

* The replies they received were more effective and positive.

* Requests were confirmed and issues resolved more promptly.

* Productivity and efficiency were enhanced, with both time and cost savings.

* They felt less frustration and more satisfaction.

* External customers had complimented them on the change in their writing, commenting that it was more friendly.

* There was less "ding-dong", that is, going back and forth to clarify points.

The final point about the "ding-dong" made me laugh. It is something I hear regularly. How often have you received an e-mail that has been written carelessly, and you have to reply to ask questions, clarifying things?

The answer you receive may clarify some issues, but then it raises other queries. Eventually you get the job done, but look at all the wasted time - all the "ding-dong".

We all grumble about e-mail overload, but how much of it is self-inflicted?

Are we making rods for our own backs because of carelessness and sloppiness in the first place?

Surely, time spent making sure your message is right in the first place will be time saved cleaning up the mess later.

Effective, "stylish" writing gives a professional impression of you and your organisation. Effective writing helps to get things done, and it gets the right results.

Writing effectively is perhaps the most demanding work you do. If you learn to pay attention to all the various aspects of style in your writing, you will increase the value of what you write, earn the respect of your readers, achieve better results and have a distinct advantage in today's e-world.