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Using Words Effectively


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Using Words Effectively

It is important that the other persons understand what we want them to understand, that they understand the intended meaning.

Hence for effective communication the sender must use words which have the same meaning for sender and receiver.

Most common cause of misunderstanding arises from assuming that the word (a label) is the object. Two people can then be arguing about something, referring to it by using the same word, arguing because this word means something different to each of them.

So to be meaningful, words must establish the same thought in both the sender and receiver of a communication.

Words vary considerably as regards their value for communication. They differ in their level of abstraction. The greater the level of abstraction, the less meaning do they have.

Levels of Abstraction

  1. Objects

    Objects represent a relatively low level of abstraction as they can be seen and touched and their characteristics detailed accurately.

    Here words are labels for objects such as table or chair.

  2. Events

    In addition to objects, both action and time are implied, and so these are more complex.

    Examples are: Accident, sale, party.

  3. Generalisations

    Words are also used as labels for groups and collections of objects or events. These generalisations are more abstract and less precise.

    Examples of such labels are: Furniture, machine tools, employees, parents.

    Employees, for example, can be full-time, part-time, shift working, office working, home working, male, female, young, old, single, married, unskilled, skilled, professional, and more.

  4. Value Judgements or Ideology

    Value judgements and ideology are at the highest level of abstraction and words used as labels for them are quite useless for effective communication until the meaning of the word used is clearly defined in detail.

    Examples of such labels are: Beautiful, valuable, necessary, luxury, lazy, free enterprise, truth.

    Such words can be strung together and mixed with generalisations to provide good-sounding speeches and statements of the kind politicians like to use, to provide speeches and statements with no real meaning attached to the words used. Listeners or readers use their own idea of what the words mean and so their understanding of what is being said differs widely from person to person.

I listed the word 'truth' as an example of a label for a meaningless abstraction. Surely 'truth' ought to be more than a meaningless value judgement, so let us look at this in more detail.

Consider two media reports of a current event. Each reports the same event, each apparently telling the truth, each report giving its viewers different impressions of what actually happened.

How come? Can there be more than one truth?

Such reports may tell only part of what happened, may report only what seems relevant to the reporter, may then be selecting what seems to support the particular viewpoint of those who prepared the report.

Compare these 'truths' with that demanded from a witness in a court of law: 'The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.'

Which means that what is required in a court of law is the truth with nothing taken away and nothing added.

If we agree on this as a definition, then the word 'truth' has become more meaningful.

See the report
Using Words to Communicate Effectively
by Manfred Davidmann

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Short Descriptions

Title   Description
Using Words to Communicate Effectively   Shows how to communicate more effectively, covering aspects of thinking, writing, speaking and listening as well as formal and informal communications. Consists of guidelines found useful by university students and practising middle and senior managers.

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Manfred Davidmann

Manfred Davidmann is an internationally well-known and respected scientist and author of a number of books and reports which have had and are having considerable impact. His work usually breaks new ground and opens up new understanding and is written in meaningful and easily understood language. Outstanding is that his work is generally accepted as factual, objective and unbiased.

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