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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

Five elements of effective communication:
A checklist

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere




Timing of communication; choice of medium; tone and point of view (perspective, attitude, and relationship regarding audience, purpose, and material); recognition of audience (reader vs. writer orientation); direct vs. indirect presentation (ordering of evidence and conclusions); persuasive strategies and rhetorical appeals (logos, pathos, ethos)


□Timing and choice of medium are appropriate to the purpose, audience, and material.

□Tone is appropriate to the purpose, audience, and material.

□Material is made relevant to the reader (reader’s interests and concerns are recognized).

□Conclusions are presented directly (conclusion first, evidence last) to a sympathetic audience, indirectly (evidence first, conclusion last) to an unsympathetic or hostile audience.

□Persuasive strategy incorporates a mixture of rhetorical approaches (appeals to logic, feelings, and ethics or credibility).


Organization (logical arrangement and sequence); evidence and support (relevance, specificity, accuracy and sufficiency of detail); knowledge of subject and material; quality of perception, analysis, and insight


□Material is arranged in a logical and coherent sequence.

□Conclusion or closing restates the argument and identifies the action to be taken.

□Examples are relevant, specific, detailed, sufficient, and persuasive.

□Quotations support the argument.

□Handling of material demonstrates knowledge and insight.


Presentation of thesis or central argument (statement of purpose, delineation or narrowing of topic, relevance of subordinate or secondary arguments); word choice; technical language and jargon; structure (sentence, paragraph, document); coherence devices (organizational statement, repetition of words and phrases, progression from familiar to unfamiliar, topic and transitional sentences); textual markers (headings, highlighting, formatting features)


□Purpose or central idea is sufficiently limited for meaningful discussion.

□Purpose or central idea is stated clearly, usually in the opening.

□Organizational statement is offered, usually at the end of the opening.

□Subordinate ideas are effectively identified and related clearly to the main purpose or central idea.

□Language is clear, specific, accurate, and appropriate to the audience, purpose, and material.

□Word choice is clear, specific, accurate, unassuming, and free of clichés and misused jargon.

□Technical language and terms are defined and explained as needed (depending on knowledge of the audience).

□Sentences are free of ambiguity.

□Text is coherent, with new information linked to previously discussed information (ordered within sentences as “something old/something new”).

□Transitions between paragraphs are clear and helpful.

□Text is appropriately highlighted (bullets, paragraphing, boldface, italics, underlining, etc.) to engage the reader and reinforce the main points.


Word choice (economy, precision, and specificity of language and detail; abstract vs. concrete language; action verbs vs. linking or weak verbs with nominalizations; figures of speech: schemes and tropes); tone (personality and humor); active vs. passive voice; sentence variety


□Word choice is economical, clear, specific, accurate, unassuming, and free of clichés and misused jargon.

□Action verbs are preferred over weak verbs with nominalizations (as in recommend over make a recommendation).

□Language is appropriately concrete or abstract (signifying or not signifying things that can be perceived by the senses).

□Figurative language (metaphors and similes, as well as other tropes and schemes) enrich and deepen the argument.

□Active voice is preferred over passive voice (active voice is used to emphasize the performer of the action; passive voice is used to emphasize the receiver of the action).

□Sentences are free of wordiness and unnecessarily complex constructions.

□Variety in sentence structure and sentence length creates emphasis.

□Author’s values, personality and – when appropriate – humor are conveyed in a way that reinforces the message.


Rules and conventions of spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and idiom; style (appropriateness of word choice and level of formality to audience, purpose, and material); social and cultural appropriateness; accuracy in proofreading


□Spelling (including technical terms and proper names) is correct.

□Correct words are used to convey the intended meaning.

□Rules of grammar and syntax are followed, including pronoun-noun agreement, subject-verb agreement, appropriate verb tense, pronoun case, possessive forms, parallel construction, etc.

□Punctuation (particularly comma placement) reflects standard usage.

□Copy is free of mechanical errors and lapses in proofreading.




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