Concreteness

Concreteness—One of Six ‘C’ Qualities of Effective Communication

The ‘C of Concreteness’, one of six Cs which represents the six (6) qualities of effective communication, calls for senders to make messages concrete by providing specific details, such as sources of information that receivers may need or want.

Concreteness means conveying a message with precise terms. Concrete presentation has its own importance in any form of communicationOpens in new window; be it written, oral, visual or audio-visual. A concrete message is easily understood by the receiver.

As a message sender, you build mental pictures for your receivers through your use of words. The receivers’ backgrounds influence their perceptions of your words. Thus, words have different meanings for different people. If you said, “Tyronne was an effective guard,” a basketball coach might think that Tyronne quickly moved the basketball down the court. A bank official might think that Tyronne remained alert and watched for any unusual activity in the building.

Use words or phrases that have definite meanings to convey a concrete message. The following steps will help you compose concrete messages:

  • Establish contact with the receiver.
  • Use precise modifiers.
  • Avoid opinions or generalizations.
  • Provide specific details.
Establish Contact with the Receiver

Concreteness in written messages compares with exactness in spoken messages. When a young boy catches a fish and tells his friends about the event, he uses his hands, postureOpens in new window, and words to describe the size of the fish. Even more hand gesturesOpens in new window illustrate the struggle he had in pulling the fish into the boat.

When the boy writes to a relative, he may include with the fishing story recollections of other family incidents. Those recollections help the reader visualize the fishing adventure. You can use the same approach to establish contact with readers. When you write a message, build on shared personal or business backgrounds. Business communicationOpens in new window often involves mutual experiences, such as the following situations:

  • Sending and receiving documents
  • Shipping and possibly returning orders
  • Applying for credit and being either accepted or rejected
  • Asking for or writing recommendations

If you do not have an experience in common with the receiver, establish contact and build a concrete message through these techniques:

  • Mentally picture the person.
  • Collect as much background information as possible.
  • Consider the person’s culture and occupation.
  • Use concrete wordsOpens in new window that have well-understood meanings.
Use Precise Modifiers

Dynamic verbs show action and motion, whereas static nouns name objects and ideas. Modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) add meaning and intensity to other words. When you use adjectivesOpens in new window and adverbsOpens in new window, you add strength and color to nounsOpens in new window and verbsOpens in new window.

Select precise modifiers because research reveals the following facts:

  • Readers remember precise (concreteOpens in new window) words longer than they remember general words.
  • Specific terms translate more easily than do broad, general words.

You probably would receive three different answers if you asked three people the question “What is a good price for a printer?” Each person would have a different interpretation for good, and you did not give adequate information about the type or speed of the printer or about how much you were willing to pay.

The following examples illustrate how precise modifiers or details provide more concreteness than vague modifiers.

    Vague Modifiers
  • Our storage facility offers large climate-controlled units.
    (Will readers agree on what large means?)
  • Precise Expressions
  • Our storage facility offers 15-by 20-foot climate-controlled units.
    Vague Modifiers
  • The local travel agency offers economical packages for seven-day Alaskan cruises.
    (Will everyone share the same denotative meaningOpens in new window of economical? State an exact amount.)
  • Precise Expressions
  • The local travel agency offers packages from $799 to $1,600 for seven-day Alaskan cruises.

Business writing uses Standard English rather than formal English. Formal prose is usually reserved for academic and literary writing. Overuse of formal vocabulary makes a business writer sound pretentious.

Also, overusing modifiers may make messages sound insincere and may create a sense of distrust. Replace vague terms with precise modifiers. Develop and maintain credibility by writing clearly and precisely. Observe the following examples.

    Overused Modifiers
  • Take advantage of the very lowest prices you’ll ever find anywhere!
    (The typical customer does not believe superlatives.)
  • Precise Expressions
  • Take advantage of the 50 percent discount off our regular prices.
    Overused Modifiers
  • Most of the students scored very high on their final exam.
  • Precise Expressions
  • Twenty-four of the 36 students scored 90 percent or higher on their final exam.
What's this?
Avoid Opinions and Generalizations

When people ask for your opinion, think about what information they need before you respond. If you have a negative opinion or if you do not agree with their position, exercise caution. When you are not sure what information they really want, ask for clarification. The following examples demonstrate the differences between opinions and requests.

    Opinions
  • You should join our focus group.
  • Courteous Requests
  • Please join our focus group.
    Opinions
  • I think an agenda should be distributed at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Courteous Requests
  • Please distribute an agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

Generalizations, vague or sweeping statements, often appear in written messages when the writer is attempting to persuade readers.

Advertisers sometimes make broad, inclusive claims. Experienced advertisers exercise caution with generalizations because many consumers do comparison shopping. Note how these examples change generalizations into specific descriptions:

    Generalization
  • Our agent has listed an impressive residence for $250,000 in the Mandavilla area.
    (Will everyone have the same concept of impressive?)
  • Specific Information
  • Our agent has listed a four-bedroom, three-bath residence for $250, 000 in the Mandavilla area.
    Generalization
  • Our holiday jewelry sale offers extraordinary values on gold pendants.
    (Will all customers define extraordinary in the same way?)
  • Specific Information
  • Our 14kt gold pendants are $70.50, a savings of 30 percent during the holiday sale.
Provide Specific Details

Effective messages contain specific details that are clear to both the sender and the receiver. Show concern for the receivers by providing specific details, such as sources of information your readers may need or want.

Suppose Charles Grant, senior vice president of Dolphin Corporation, called the editor of the corporate newsletter and discussed submitting an article for the next edition. The editor, excited that the senior vice president was interested in preparing an article, readily accepted the offer and provided the submission deadline. The editor, however, did not indicate how long the article should be, nor did he explain what word processing format should be used.

Imagine the editor’s reaction when the vice president submitted the article the day before the final proof was scheduled for delivery to the printer. The article exceeded the word count that had been allocated in the layout; also, the vice president had not keyed the manuscript in the correct format. Since the vice president was attending a sales meeting with clients in Japan, he was unavailable for consultation.

If the editor had provided the vice president with information about what the text length should have been and what word processing format was needed, the resulting panic could have been avoided. Also, the vice president should have asked for specific details. Complete details would have saved time and concern for all parties.

A concrete message is exact. As you develop concrete messages, you also verify correctness. CorrectnessOpens in new window, the next quality of effective messages, is discussed hereOpens in new window.