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Communicating effectively with universities during coronavirus

Developing communication skills is key to any student's toolkit, especially when communicating with a university. Our guide takes you through some best practices and what to definitely avoid doing.

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Things have changed fairly rapidly and quite drastically for many of us. We’re getting used to a new normal and working out the best ways to stay on track and productive. When it comes to preparing for and pursuing your academic ambitions, some slight adjustments may need to be made, including how you communicate with the university of your choice.

 

This does not mean that you won’t be able to fulfil your study dreams and get the information that you need. It just means you may need to polish up and develop new ways of communicating, which can also be applied to other areas of your life.  We’ve got some advice and guidance on how best to approach communicating online with universities.

 

Netiquette

 

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that when communicating online abiding by a set of conventions and a code of conduct is important. The word ‘netiquette’ is derived from the combination of ‘network’ and ‘etiquette’. It’s used to describe an expected standard of behaviour when interacting online, a ‘do’s’ and ‘do not’s’ if you will. Netiquette encourages you to make sure to remember that you’re communicating with another person, despite the virtual nature of the contact, mediated as it is by a keyboard and screen.

 

A general rule to consider is that it’s best to try and keep to the same standards that you would use when communicating with someone in person. This includes being polite, courteous, respecting their views, refraining from abuse and valuing their time. One of the cardinal sins of online communication is spamming, which involves sending multiple messages over a short period of time to one person or a group. It can be tempting to do so if you haven’t received the reply that you were hoping for. However, it will also increase the chances that you won’t get any response as people will be reluctant to communicate with you.

 

Communicating online

 

It’s important to consider that how you communicate with your friends and family will be different to how you should communicate professionally with a university. Using texting abbreviations and emojis may not meet with the desired response from an admissions officer or university representative. In addition, try and make sure that you have proofread your communication prior to sending so that there are not spelling errors or errors of fact.  You should always try and keep your negative emotions under control, even in the event that you experience significant frustration. You do have a right to be assertive, but being abusive or angry will not lead to a productive outcome. You can also take a look at our top tips for dealing with challenges for some extra advice and skills. 

 

Make sure that you respect people’s privacy and the confidentiality of your communication. For example, if you are unhappy with a response you have received or think that it is humorous, posting that publicly or sharing it with others is not the best course of action. It’s helpful to put yourself in the other persons position and evaluate how you would feel with the same level of exposure. Inevitably we all may fall short of the expected standards of netiquette, from poor grammar and spelling to an error to inaccurate information. We’re all only human. What we shouldn’t forget is that we need to be understanding and forgiving of some mistakes along the way, reacting with indignation, aggression, arrogance or anger won’t allow us to progress.

 

 

Be clear and concise

 

It cannot be overstated how important it is to be able to convey what you want and need as clearly as possible. Before communicating with a university it’s always advisable to do your research and synthesise your key objective. For example, are you looking for clarification on entry requirements or do you want information on a particular course? In some cases, this information may already be available on the university website and so taking a bit of time to search can pay dividends.

 

Never have the expectation that others should be conducting research and investigation for you. Demonstrate that you have taken the time to read up on an issue and understand the facts. If you’re getting in touch with someone for assistance showing that you’ve taken initiative to find a solution will work in your favour.

 

Brevity and being succinct is always advisable, both in the language that you use and the length of your communication. What can help is writing down the main question/s you have prior to starting on a draft. These can then be incorporated into your subject line, in the event your sending an email, or a title if your posting on board or channel. This will allow the person reading your communication to instantly ascertain what you’re looking for.

 

Avoid including too much information in your communication, such as multiple questions or an elaborate introduction. A brief greeting and introduction will do just fine, before you get into the detail of what you would like to find out.  Remember that you don’t have to include attachments like CV’s, degree certificates or examples of your work unless you are explicitly asked to do so. Doing so can distract from the primary goal you’re trying to achieve. 

 

If you’re responding to an email or communication that you have received from an institution the same guidelines as outlined above will also apply. You’ll also need to read the correspondence very carefully to see what is required and how best to respond. One way of keeping your communication clear, concise and to the point is to incorporate bullet points or lists, which can act as useful sign posts.

Online communication skills

 

Develop the correct tone

 

Tone is everything. What is tone you ask? It’s the way in which you use words to convey who you are and how you address the intended recipient of your message. It can be challenging to develop the right tone online, as in person we use gestures and voice to accompany our words. Tone affects the way a recipient of a message may react or respond. Using grammar and punctuation is absolutely essential in diminishing the chance of someone misinterpreting your words.

 

You should try and maintain a consistent tone throughout your communication. It should be polite, informative, professional and positive. This will allow the reader to build up a positive image of you and they may be more persuaded to help out.

 

Student communication skills

 

You may be tempted to turn to emoticons to convey your feelings, but this should generally be avoided in professional communication as it denotes overfamiliarity and can be interpreted as flippant. This rule can change slightly if you have built a relationship or rapport with the person you’re communicating with over time, however it’s best not to be too casual with your tone.

 

Another potential hazard is using bold and upper-case text to highlight a point. This can, and is most often, interpreted as aggressive or confrontational. Added to this is the use of colourful text and elaborate fonts as a way to emphasise tone. Keep it classic and simple and you’ll leave a lasting impression. Being courteous and respectful with your tone really helps to build a connection and shows that you acknowledge the individual with whom you are connecting.

 

Provide the correct information

 

As with any form of communication conveying information accurately is very important. Before writing your email or post, it can be useful to put together a list of the key points you’ll be covering and what information you need for each. Perhaps this is a course code or a specific test score. Including critical information will make it easier for the person dealing with your query to respond. This includes when using online learning platforms and tools. 

 

Try to avoid being vague or general in the way you write, rather adopt a direct and instructive approach. If you need to add an attachment to an email, make sure that you mention this so that they person reading knows to look. It’s a very easy mistake to make to forget to attach something critical. Do the relevant research before making factual claims or statements. Take the guess work out of the correspondence and make sure to include the essential bits of information the person may need, like a reference number or student number.

Develop communication skills

Using different channels

 

You will likely have the option of communicating with a university on a number of different channels. Choosing which channel to use should ideally be informed by what you are trying to achieve and where you’re most likely to meet with success.

 

A primary tool for formal and official communication is usually email. This channel gives you the opportunity to contact a specific individual or university service and the chance to include key information.  You may be wondering when email is the best communication tool to use? There are some general points of when to use email:

 

  • If the person you’re trying to communicate with is quite busy or hard to get hold of
  • The nature of your request is not time sensitive and if it is be proactive and send your email well in advance.
  • When you need to send documents
  • You’re communicating with more than one person simultaneously
  • You want to have a record of the correspondence. Useful for official communication

 

Email may not be the right choice if you have a particularly complicated issue that would be best dealt with over the phone or in person. It’s also not ideal for highly confidential information to be shared. Neither is social media for that matter.

 

If you have a quick query or question, social media channels may be your best bet. There are often student representatives and staff who monitor discussions, posts and messages who are willing to help out. The same goes for forums and message boards.

 

When using social media remember that being clear and concise is absolutely critical. Further, you should try and ensure that your social media profile is in keeping with the image that you wish to portray. Participating in discussions, events and commenting can stand you in good stead when and if you decide to apply to the university. You’ll have knowledge of their activities and profile, with some admissions officers taking your social media interaction as an indication of your suitability as a student for a university when evaluating your application.

 

Top writing tips

 

Here are our top tips to getting it right:

 

  • Keep your subject lines on topic, be specific and use keywords
  • Keep your tone consistent and professional
  • Always demonstrate common courtesy
  • Think about the intended recipient of your communication
  • CAPS LOCK and UPPER CASE are not your friends
  • Proofread for grammar and spelling
  • Go easy on the emoticons
  • Don’t use texting abbreviations
  • Do your research and include the relevant information
  • Keep it short and simple

 

You can now rest assured that when you communicate with a university you’ll be ready. Don't forget you can also check out our tips on writing a university application, writing the perfect scholarship application and putting together a great personal statement.  Nothing can hold you back from pursuing your study ambitions. 

 

Communication skills online