Introduction to Oral vs. Written Communication
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Communication has been studied and taught for thousands of years. Indeed, as far back as 5th century BC, the art of mastering the elements of both oral and written communication dominated much of the curriculum in the schools of Ancient Greece and Rome. Even then, people of power seemed to understand the importance of word-mastery in their professions.

The need for such a skill-set has not changed. Indeed, according to a recent article on, employers are frequently looking for the soft skills of oral and written communication in their potential hires (Monster's, Soft Skills to Help Your Career Hit the Big Time). Unlike a specific skill like being able to write computer code or operate a machine, a soft skill is a skill like being able to communicate, solve problems, or work with other people.

So what can be done to develop this skill, and how will you know how and when to communicate orally or through writing in your desired professional community? Before we explore this deeper, look over these simple summary graphics and try to identify the distinct differences between the two communication styles.

Oral Communication

Group of people talking around a table in a board room

  • Environment

    • Given and received in a relatively stable, controlled environment
  • Feedback

    • Immediate Feedback
    • Adaptable message
    • Benefit of social cues
  • Context

    • Allows for showing, not just telling
    • Easier to give context
  • Style

    • Simpler
    • Shorter sentences
    • More universal word choice
    • Repetition/summarization

Written Communication

Man typing on a laptop

  • Environment

    • While written in a controlled environment…
    • …..It may be read in an unpredictable environment
  • Feedback

    • Delayed Feedback
    • Permanent message
    • Lack of social cues
  • Context

    • Relies solely on description (story telling)
    • More difficult to provide context
  • Style

    • More complex
    • Professional Community-specific jargon
    • Grammatical correctness

As you can see, while oral and written communication may seem similar on the surface, there are actually quite a few distinct differences. Let’s take a moment to look at just a few in this lesson.

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