The art of communicating on paper
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CTA. 2000. The art of communicating on paper. Spore 86. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The verb to communicate has a lot of synonyms: speaking, divulging, passing on, publishing, conveying, explaining, informing, exchanging, corresponding To communicate is more than just being in contact with the outside world a simple...
The verb to communicate has a lot of synonyms: speaking, divulging, passing on, publishing, conveying, explaining, informing, exchanging, corresponding To communicate is more than just being in contact with the outside world a simple handshake has the same effect. It is more about expecting a result. And so it is in development, where there are competing messages and demands for attention from various centres of power. Amid all the noise, the top priority has to be about communication leading to understanding and action. Illustration: H. Larkins Designing a newspaper, a folder, a technical leaflet or an extension chart, submitting a funding proposal, or sending a summary or a full report to decision makers, are all acts of communication grouped together as the paper media . They are the preferred and somewhat inflexible methods of communication for researchers, extension workers, groups and associations, business leaders, NGOs and farmers. Effective communication involves a choice of writing style and presentation which varies according to the intended audience, the message to be communicated, and the medium to be used. These three facets are always interlinked, but, at the outset, it is the choice of audience which determines how it should be addressed. After all, you do not address scientists the same way as you address a group of farmers, students or children. When a researcher is communicating his findings to other researchers, he uses a structure and a style which bear nothing in common with the style used to disseminate the same findings, or a press release, or a training brochure, about them. The rules used in the different types of documents change, but the underlying logic stays the same: it is about helping the chosen audience to best understand the message. And so the same basic text can be used in variety of ways. A scientific article can be used, for example, as the basis for writing a technical leaflet. This assumes, of course, that the original text and the message to be passed on are suitable for re-packaging. It would be wrong, for example, to tell a group of farmers about a series of experiments conducted on a water pump if the real message to be communicated is about how the pump works. A range of materials can be used for written communication, each one of them with a distinct structure that is derived from the content, use and target group. A network newsletter, for example, serves as a forum for exchange which brings together members or subscribers around a shared activity. Technical leaflets, on the other hand, aim at passing on a piece of knowledge or instructions on using a technique, and express information in clear language, with supporting illustrations and simple references. And, as the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words, which is why extension materials and posters often use images as an attractive and easy way of communicating information to people with reading difficulties. Another medium with a specific use is a series of booklets, a collection of small documents dealing with the same subject from different perspectives. A series aims at encourage reading habits, and familiarity (through using the same typefaces, presentation, colours and layout of texts). So the choice of medium to be used is defined by the situation of the reader, who has to be able to understand the message immediately. A learning strategy The selection of the target group, the choice of the message, the multiple uses of the same basic information, letting the message define the medium, style and form: all these are skills that can be learned, alongside the ground rules of ethics in communication skills. There are specialised centres and institutes, such as ISSIC in Senegal (see box), which provide training courses in communication. There are other bodies too, whose role is to run professional workshops and short courses in communication techniques and the skills of the written media. No matter how skilled you may become, every writer well knows the state of total fear of writing, of staring at an empty page hoping it will fill itself with words. The condition is called writer s block and afflicts anyone who writes for a living but cannot get started. Nowadays therapy is available in the form of writing workshops which dispense writing exercises. They are designed, like gymnastic exercises, to clear your thinking, and give you the courage to get going. It should be painless The ABC of Book Publishing. A Training manual for NGOs in Africa. Co-publication JANyeko Publishing/CTA, 1999, 116 pages, ISBN 9970-510-01-2, CTA number 961, 20 credit points. (This book was reviewed in Spore 85). Guide for technical writers. CARDI/ CTA, 1996, 56 pp. ISBN 97 661 700 29. CTA number 767, 10 credit points.
- CTA Spore (English)