Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

Whate’er is well conceived is clearly said, and the words to say it flow with ease.
Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux (1636 – 1711), The Art of Poetry

Learning to Better Communicate My Ideas

Communication Elaboration Strategies

I take my audience’s expectations into account: the clearer my audience’s expectations are, the better my communication is. I put myself in their shoes, I understand their point of view, I know their frame of reference. These are crucial conditions of quality communication. When I know the details of the performance criteria for an assignment, it is easier for me to verify if I fully meet these criteria and, if necessary, make adjustments. On a professional level, when my assigned mandates are clear and the performance criteria are known, it is easier for me to adjust my course of action, or in the worst case scenario, be able to justify why the criteria have not all been met. In university, it is the teacher who is the recipient of my final work: trying to explain to him that I know what I mean is not the most convincing argument for the quality of my assignment.

I structure my communication with sets and subsets: the best ideas never come spontaneously. Neither does their wording. I generally have a global idea of what I wish to express. Where it starts to fall apart is when I have to go from this general vision to the sentence by sentence writing of the text. The feeling of initial chaos is a normal condition of explanatory and scientific writing. In the same way as doing a puzzle, we start with the corners, then the borders and the easily identifiable pieces, we can elaborate our communication by first freeing up all of the ideas that we wish to express (the pieces of a puzzle), then classifying them into categories and subcategories (guiding idea and main and secondary ideas), next developing each of these ideas (statements of ideas, facts, arguments, examples, opinions, etc.), following this, linking one to the other with the most appropriate connectors (transitions) and finally, writing the introduction and the conclusion.  

Word processing using a computer has an indisputable advantage over other writing instruments. Using the outline view mode, I constitute and evolve my ideas and plan at the same time that I collect the information that will feed my final work. It facilitates the simultaneity of two writing processes that are generally difficult to conciliate: expressing ideas as they spontaneously emerge and organizing them within a progressive plan. It certainly avoids my painfully rewriting by hand. Its memory capacity also allows me to construct and manage a veritable personal bank of data and information on the subjects that are close to my heart. Also, all previous work can be retrieved, enriched, developed and integrated, semester after semester, around the central themes that are the core reasons for my studies and centers of my professional interest.

I am complete, precise and exact: precision and exactitude are two important qualities of good communication. But the precision and exactitude of my communication are directly related to the precision with which I have defined my purpose and the precision and exactitude with which I have collected my information. When I write an exam, for instance, the evaluator expects to find concepts and theoretical elements that relate to the test question and that were included, explained and discussed in class. My choice of vocabulary and explanations should reflect the learning of these notions and their correct use.

I select the elements of my communication: quality communication should include all of the elements required, and only the elements required. Saying too much or too little results in answering only part of the question or, veering off track. Work that only answers part of the question, that treats only  part of the subject, or on the contrary, work that is in excess of the request, reveals my incomprehension of the problem, my forgetting the original instructions in the midst of my work, my incomplete research of pertinent information, or my insufficient selection of pertinent information to the subject. Questioning the pertinence is in part the solution, in that this questioning guides me to confront each idea or piece of information with the initial statement of the problem and intended goal. Language that is direct and simple yet precise and complete is the desired qualities of scientific writing. These qualities are eminently appreciated in team work situations and during professional meetings.

I control the quality of my work before submitting it: the best way of ensuring the quality of my work, is to frequently verify it while it is in progress and then, once completed. This involves regular re-reading of the initial instructions in order to verify if I am on the right track, verifying the quality of my ideas while elaborating them (organization, pertinence, exactitude, precision) and the final proof reading. The verification of my progress is an essential habit to develop. It requires little time, once acquired and automatic.

Finally, a quality of work aspect not to neglect: the presentation. After the content, comes the packaging. We are all sensitive to the presentation of a product, independent of the intrinsic qualities. A well presented product creates favorable first impressions. A well printed and formatted text, with titles, leaves an impression of order and care that would not be the case with a pencil-written manuscript that has no margins or titles, is full of crossed-out words, traces of erased text and stains of unknown origin, on paper torn from an exercise book and held together by ripped and folded corners. In the professional world, no report like this would be accepted. Right from my first year of university, I must develop the habit of paying close attention to all of these details, big and small. It is not only a question of respect for my audience, but also my own self-respect and not to mention, the importance I accord to my projects.

Applications to University Studies

Term Assignments

The art of extracting the essential from texts and lectures combined with an efficient classification system for these notes is the basis for a rich and quality written product. I can group my reading summaries (important ideas, quotations, bibliographical references, brief resumes, facts, graphs) together in sets and subsets until they form the skeleton of a logical and satisfactory plan. With a computer, the word processing outline view mode allows me to integrate all pertinent information directly into my writing plan. Thus, the structure of my plan evolves as ideas come and new information is integrated.

Class Presentations

Preparing a class presentation calls for roughly the same method as written work.  The difference lies in the mode of presentation. The listener must be able to understand the structure of my presentation while they are listening to my arguments. Therefore, it is necessary that I make my purpose and plan clear from the start and that I emphasize the links between the various parts of my presentation by regularly recalling which part I am in.

Writing Exams

An individual who chooses to answer an essay question and assess the content of their answer uses a certain amount of objective and subjective criteria in order to judge their quality. Generally, these criteria are explicit, although some may be implicit. In these cases, my knowledge of university culture and good perception of the teacher’s expectations serves to guide me in the elaboration of my answers.

During essay-question exams, my ideas do not necessarily come to me in the best order of statement. This is the reason why it is better that I divide my response composition work into three distinct steps. First, in an abridged form, I jot down my ideas as they spontaneously come to mind, as well as all information that I can easily remember. Secondly, I fill in the blanks, I sort and organize my ideas and I put together a response plan (still in abridged form). And finally, I start writing my answer in its final format, taking the time to verify and check for any omissions or English mistakes (at least making as few as possible) before I submit my work. This way of doing things has the advantage of not being contrary to the natural movement of my memory, as is often the case when we want to jump right into doing the final copy. This also allows for my quick assurance of what I know and diminishes my level of stress.


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