Word Choice – Verbal Versus Oral

BizWritingTip reader: “I was writing an email to a colleague and hesitated after I had written ‘Do you want to include the names in the proposal or would you prefer to share those verbally? I’m wondering since the names will be passed on during a dialogue if I would have been more accurate to say ‘orally’?”

BizWritingTip response: Many people use these words interchangeably as their meaning seems similar. However, oral means “by mouth.” Verbal means “not written.” Do they seem similar? Perhaps. But think of them in terms of action.

When you present an oral report, you have to open your mouth. When you present a verbal report, you have to paint a picture with words.

Examples
You can present your oral report at tomorrow’s meeting. (The emphasis is on how you are expected to deliver your report.)
His verbal picture of the economy was refreshing. (The emphasis is on the “picture” – not on how it was presented. We do not see any action.)
We had a verbal dispute about their customer service. (Words were used – not fists.)

As I said earlier, these two words are often interchanged today. But I recommend using oral whenever you want to emphasize how something is to be delivered. Therefore, to answer this BizWritingTip reader’s question, I suggest:

Do you want to include the names in the proposal or would you prefer to share those orally?

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