Although written communication has several obvious advantages over oral communication, such as unambiguity in meaning, easy replication and permanence, written communication is not always the best choice for business, academic or personal communication. Understanding the disadvantages of written communication positions you to determine the best mode of communication for any situation.
Written communication is less personal than oral communication, making it less ideal for emotional messages. For example, most people feel that important news, such as being fired, getting a promotion, ending a relationship or proposing marriage should be communicated in person. Communicating through writing or email is also less effective than in-person communication at building personal relationships.
Written communication does not include nuances of tone of voice or facial expression, making miscommunication more likely. Humor and sarcasm are especially difficult to convey in written communication and may be construed as insults. This compels people to write in a more formal, serious tone, contributing to the impersonal nature of written communication.
Oral communication generally generates instantaneous verbal and non-verbal feedback, which often informs the speaker's next remarks. Written communication lacks this important element, and even with some forms of digital communication like texting or instant messages, the written responses lack oral communication's spontaneity. Written communication cannot be immediately adjusted to meet an audience's needs, clarify a question or respond to a rebuttal. In addition, if miscommunication occurs, the writer may not find out about it in time to correct it.
Written communication often takes longer than oral communication, so it may be more expensive for businesses. In addition, hard copies of written communication require printers, ink and paper, and also take up storage space. In many cases, electronic communications must also be stored, although the cost of such storage in terms of space and cost is far less than for hard-copy storage. Whether hard-copy or electronic, stored material may inadvertantly be lost or destroyed.
The permanence of written communication may create a liability issue. For example, while spoken remarks are easily forgotten, emails, memos and other documents can be used as evidence in court, even years after they were written. In addition, the easy replication of written communication makes it riskier; while a spoken off-color joke may offend a few people, for example, an inappropriate email can instantly be forwarded to thousands of recipients.