If you have to communicate something people will trust – write it down
Writing is an essential component of being human. Even though other animals may have similar behaviour traits as us, no other species writes. Writing itself dates back over 30,000 years and before that time cave paintings and other pictorial systems were used as codes to send messages to other early humans. Writing stuff down to communicate with other people is deeply embedded in our psyche.
New research, though, shows that that is deeper than we might think. In a novel experiment with young children researchers in the USA and the UK found that written instructions were trusted more than oral instructions. Children were playing a game where there was a deliberate problem that needed solving. The youngsters were either given instructions on how to solve the issue orally, or by reading out something that was printed. In the children who had no reading ability there was no preference for either solution. But in the children who could read – even rudimentary reading skills – there was a significant and dramatic preference for the instructions that were written down. They clearly trusted the written instructions over and above anything they were told.
We all prefer things in writing
You know you do this yourself. Ask someone how to solve a technical issue and you may well try their solution. But if you find an instruction manual before you get a chance to try the spoken method, you’ll defer to the written instructions first. When people tell you the way to some place you might follow their directions, until you see a road sign and then you will follow that, dispensing with the oral instructions you were given. We clearly prefer written communication over oral communication. Indeed, how many times have you asked “can you put that in writing for me?”
For website owners, bloggers and anyone trying to communicate online this is an important piece of research. The current trend for online video may appeal to people who prefer visual over written communication. It may give people rapid access to information in an era of shortened attention spans. It may be the “modern way” of doing things. But this research suggests it is problematic. People are less likely to trust what you say on YouTube than what you say in writing – even if it is the same information.
What does this mean practically?
These new findings suggest that if you want people to trust what you say you need to present it in writing. It would seem that written blogs are more trusted than video blogs. That means if you want to communicate well online you need to do both – if you have something on YouTube you also need to present it in writing. Simply providing information on video alone is not enough.
It also means that if you present your material “live”, presenting in front of audiences, your key points need to be provided to them in writing, otherwise you will be trusted less than you would like.[quote]People clearly prefer and trust material in writing over and above oral communication. [/quote]
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+