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Compare and contrast written and oral communication essay

Differences Between Oral and Written Communication

There are distinct differences in environment when communicating orally vs. through writing. When communicating orally, the environment in which the message is given remains largely stable and controlled in the sense that all people listening are in the same space, at the same time, and with the same level (or lack thereof) of interference or distraction. This is not always the case with written communication though.

Handwritten or even digital items may not be opened immediately by the receiver. While the outgoing communication may be sent from a calm office environment, it might not be received until hours later in a much different surrounding (like on a busy commuter train or even at home with a screaming toddler in the background). Consequently, the nature of the message going out and the environment in which it can or even should be received should heavily inform which avenue of communication you choose to relay your message.

To Review:

  • Stable, controlled environment
  • Unpredictable environment

Ponder and Record

  • In what situations might the environment play a bigger role in how a message is received?
  • Think of one request you think might be better communicated in person and one that could be sent just fine via email. What kind of request might that be?


Another way written and oral communication differ from one another is in the immediacy of feedback. When you are having a conversation with a person face to face, you can see and read into things like tone, body language, and other social gestures. You can tell if what you are saying is being received well or not. You can then begin altering your message to better suit and appeal to what you are learning about your audience—and do it in real time!

On the other hand, written communication has an almost immediate delay in feedback. There is no way to predict how long it will take for the communication to be received or responded to. Written communication also doesn’t allow for easy and swift modifications of words and tone based on how the message is received. The tone of an email cannot be altered once it has been sent out, and the same goes for all other forms of written communication.

Much like you learned with environment, the feedback factor is simply another component to consider when choosing the best method of communication.

To Review:

  • Immediate feedback
  • Adaptable message
  • Benefit of social cues
  • Delayed feedback
  • Permanent message
  • Lack of social cues

Ponder and Record

  • In what situations might immediate feedback be vital to successful communication?
  • In what situations might immediate feedback not be as important to successful communication?


Context is another important difference to take into consideration when deciding how to communicate. When speaking to a person face to face, you can show, not just describe, what you are trying to communicate.

Some types of communication do not require much showing. The context of the message might be familiar to the receiver or quite self-explanatory (like letting someone know that a business report has been completed and then attaching it to the email for their review). Other messages might require a bit more context to be communicated clearly though.

For example—imagine for a moment that you are a seasoned employee at a certain company (an expert in that company’s professional community) and that you have been asked to train a new employee. Part of that training involves teaching this new employee how to use a computer program that is entirely unfamiliar to her. How easy would it be to train this employee remotely and in writing rather than orally and in person? How many pages of notes, pictures, descriptive words, and written exchanges would it take to walk this employee through the steps of locating the program, logging in, gaining familiarity with all the functions, etc.? How might that compare to a simple sit down meeting with this employee in front of your own computer? How much simpler and more efficient might that communication be?

Again, though this is not the only thing that sets written and oral communication apart, it is definitely one difference to consider alongside the rest when selecting a communication strategy.

To Review:

  • Allows for showing, not just telling
  • Easier to give context
  • Relies solely on description (telling)
  • More difficult to provide context

Ponder and Record

  • What specific situations might require a face-to-face conversation over one in writing? List one situation where writing would be the preferred method of communication and one in which oral communication would be preferred.


One of the final differences between oral and written communication is the style in which it is delivered.

Oral communication tends to be much simpler. Sentences are shorter and word choice is more universal (with less professional community specific jargon). Good oral communication also tends to contain lots of repetition as the short term or working memory is incapable of holding onto orally transmitted information for longer than a couple of minutes. In consequence, oral communication tends to have to circle back around and summarize main points throughout the dialogue in a way that written communication does not have to.

Written communication, on the other hand, while sharing the desirable qualities of needing to be clear and concise, tends to be much more rich and complex. Ideas are generally shared in paragraph form and with industry specific vocabulary and jargon. While grammar and punctuation take a backseat in oral communication (replaced by things like tone, inflection, and hand gestures), written communication requires a certain level of professionalism and grammatical correctness. Commas placed in incorrect places or a lack of periods to separate sentences could quite literally lead to a misinterpretation of information. At its worst, poor written communication also tends to result in a kind of informal rejection from the professional community that you are intending to join. In order to be accepted as an equal into a professional community, you must learn to speak (and write) in the language of that industry. Failure to show this mastery could result in some pretty negative consequences when it comes to career advancement, so it is definitely a skill that you will want to take the time to study and master.

Difference between Oral Communication and Written Communication

Oral communication is the most widely used form of communication in the world. Humans are known to have communicated throughout the centuries of civilization, by using this method of communication. Oral communication is also one of the key factors that differentiates humans from other creatures, and entitles them to the claim of being the most intelligent species on earth.

One can understand oral communication simply as a verbally spoken conversation. It is the routine words and sentences that we use in conveying our feelings, desires, emotions, etc. to the people around us. Oral communication as a term may refer to two individuals participating in a conversation, such as a face-to-face chat, discussion, etc. Or, it could mean a group of people talking amongst themselves, like a meeting, a convention, etc. Oral communication may also mean an individual communicating to a large audience, as it happens in a speech, or a public presentation. Apart from voicing out one’s feelings and emotions, oral communication is also largely influenced by body language. Appearing trivial in nature, things such as body gait, posture, eye contact, etc. can influence an oral conversation as much as speaking the right words in the right manner does.

Written communication has been prevalent on earth since the advent of pictographs. Pictograph was a method of communication that involved drawing symbols or pictures on cave walls or flat surfaces, so that people could observe them and grasp the message conveyed through it. Writing basically functions on this very premise, except that we now use alphabets, numbers, punctuations, etc. to communicate with the readers. Written communication has evolved from being understood as a tool to communicate using pen and paper. Writing now implies to digital mediums of communication as well, such as emails, text messages, chatting on the web, etc.

Written communication is considered as the preferred form of communication, when it comes to government undertakings, official work, formal agreements, etc. This is because written communication is more suitable to be effectively implemented in such scenarios, than oral communication. For instance, written communication provides the facility of recording any piece of communication, as it is always in written form, while oral communication cannot. In this day and age, oral communication can also be recorded using the various means of technology, but oral communication is not always recorded. Whereas, written communication is always in a recorded form. This is the reason why written communication holds an edge over oral communication in legal and formal circumstances. Written communication not only enables a person to relive and remember a conversation exactly, but also to present it as evidence, in case he/she is in a spot of bother.

However, the fact which remains is that both oral and written forms of communication are indispensable to the human society in its day to day life.

Comparison between Oral and Written Communication:

Oral Communication

Written Communication

Communicating by word of mouth is termed as oral communication.

Written communication involves writing/drawing symbols in order to communicate.

Oral communication can be altered or corrected after saying.

Once written, it is recorded. So the communication either has to be erased or written anew.

Oral communication is mostly used for immediate confrontations.

Written communication is usually not preferred for face to face communications.

Oral communications tend to be forgotten quite easily and quickly.

Written communications are always recorded, so they stand the test of time.

Oral communication attracts instant feedback from the listeners.

Written communication doesn’t normally receive immediate feedback, unless it’s on the internet or electronic.

Speakers use their baritone, sound pitch, volume alteration to convey certain expressions to the listeners.

Writers use specific words, punctuation marks, etc. to easily put an expression across in the text.

Normally, grammar is not paid much attention to in oral communication.

Being grammatically correct is one of the requisites for effective written communication.

Compare and contrast written and oral communication essay

Vincent Ferraro and Kathryn C. Palmer
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, MA 01075
Speaking and Arguing: The Rhetoric of Peace and War

Differences Between Oral and Written Communication

Most of us intuitively understand that there are differences between oral and written language. All communication includes the transfer of information from one person to another, and while the transfer of information is only the first step in the process of understanding a complex phenomenon, it is an important first step. Writing is a fairly static form of transfer. Speaking is a dynamic transfer of information. To be an effective speaker, you must exploit the dynamism of oral communication, but also learn to work within its limitations. While there is a higher level of immediacy and a lower level of retention in the spoken word, a speaker has more ability to engage the audience psychologically and to use complex forms of non-verbal communication

The written language can be significantly more precise. Written words can be chosen with greater deliberation and thought, and a written argument can be extraordinarily sophisticated, intricate, and lengthy. These attributes of writing are possible because the pace of involvement is controlled by both the writer and the reader. The writer can write and rewrite at great length, a span of time which in some cases can be measured in years. Similarly, the reader can read quickly or slowly or even stop to think about what he or she has just read. More importantly, the reader always has the option of re-reading; even if that option is not exercised, its mere possibility has an effect upon a reader’s understanding of a text. The written word appeals more to a contemplative, deliberative style.

Speeches can also be precise and indeed they ought to be. But precision in oral communication comes only with a great deal of preparation and compression. Once spoken, words cannot be retracted, although one can apologize for a mistake and improvise a clarification or qualification. One can read from a written text and achieve the same degree of verbal precision as written communication. But word-for-word reading from a text is not speech-making, and in most circumstances audiences find speech-reading boring and retain very little of the information transmitted.

On the other hand, oral communication can be significantly more effective in expressing meaning to an audience. This distinction between precision and effectiveness is due to the extensive repertoire of signals available to the speaker: gestures, intonation, inflection, volume, pitch, pauses, movement, visual cues such as appearance, and a whole host of other ways to communicate meaning. A speaker has significantly more control over what the listener will hear than the writer has over what the reader will read. For these techniques to be effective, however, the speaker needs to make sure that he or she has the audience’s attention–audiences do not have the luxury of re-reading the words spoken. The speaker, therefore, must become a reader of the audience.

Reading an audience is a systematic and cumulative endeavor unavailable to the writer. As one speaks, the audience provides its own visual cues about whether it is finding the argument coherent, comprehensible, or interesting. Speakers should avoid focusing on single individuals within an audience. There are always some who scrunch up their faces when they disagree with a point; others will stare out the window; a few rude (but tired) persons will fall asleep. These persons do not necessarily represent the views of the audience; much depends upon how many in the audience manifest these signals. By and large, one should take the head-nodders and the note-takers as signs that the audience is following one’s argument. If these people seem to outnumber the people not paying attention, then the speech is being well-received. The single most important bit of evidence about the audience’s attention, however, is eye contact. If members of the audience will look back at you when you are speaking, then you have their attention. If they look away, then your contact with the audience is probably fading.

Speeches probably cannot be sophisticated and intricate. Few audiences have the listening ability or background to work through a difficult or complex argument, and speakers should not expect them to be able to do so. Many speakers fail to appreciate the difficulties of good listening, and most speakers worry about leaving out some important part of the argument. One must be acutely aware of the tradeoff between comprehensiveness and comprehension. Trying to put too much into a speech is probably the single most frequent error made by speakers.

This desire to “say everything” stems from the distinctive limitations of speeches: after a speech, one cannot go back and correct errors or omissions, and such mistakes could potentially cripple the persuasiveness of a speech. A speaker cannot allow himself or herself to fall into this mentality. At the outset, a speaker must define an argument sharply and narrowly and must focus on only that argument. There are certainly implications of an argument that are important but cannot be developed within the speech. These aspects should be clearly acknowledged by the speaker, but deferred to a question-and-answer period, a future speech, or a reference to a work that the audience can follow-up on its own. Speakers must exercise tight and disciplined control over content.

As a rule of thumb, the audience will remember about one-half of what was said in a twenty-minute talk. After twenty-minutes, recall drops off precipitously. Oral arguments should therefore be parsed down as much as possible. There are very few circumstances in which an audience will recall a great deal of the information in a speech longer than twenty minutes. Most evidence suggests that audience recall declines precipitously after 16 and one-helf minutes.

Oral communication uses words with fewer syllables than the written language, the sentences are shorter, and self-referencing pronouns such as I are common. Oral communication also allows incomplete sentences if delivered properly, and many sentences will begin with “and,” “but,” and “except.”

The upshot of these differences is that one should not think about speeches as oral presentations of a written text. Speeches are genuinely different from written prose, and one should not use the logic of writing as a basis for writing a speech.