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How We Got Here from There
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

Ten years ago when I decided to become a trainer/consultant in business writing, companies were demanding their staff be taught how to write clearly and concisely. The emphasis was on letters and memos.

In the early 1990s as people began to lose their secretarial support and were forced to compose, input and edit their own documents, grammar and punctuation became a concern. "My people don't look professional," said managers, "when their material is riddled with errors."

In addition, report writing was added to the list of writing "musts" as staff were required to write more and more comprehensive documents to inform senior management or to analyze the status of projects.

Then in the mid-90s another criteria was added - tone. As businesses became even more competitive, they felt the need to build relationships with their clients and customers. "My staff have to be able to add warmth and personality to their writing."

Proposal writing and responding to either request for information (RFIs) or requests for proposals (RFPs) were also given increased focus as these tools became a favoured way to do business.

Now in the late 90s, two new writing vehicles are demanding attention: business case studies and internet writing. Business case studies not only examine all the relevant information associated with a situation, they also analyze the alternatives. And, as for internet writing, the internet is fast becoming the "fourth channel" of business communication (the other three being face-to-face, mail, and phone).

Writing Styles Are Changing

Writing styles are constantly evolving according to customer needs. Up until the 80s writing was considered good if it was cold, impersonal, employed polysyllabic words and involved long paragraphs and complicated sentences.

Now the writing of choice varies widely from formal to informal depending on the reader and the message. Sentences and paragraphs are shorter and bulleted lists highly popular. Good grammar is still crucial, and visual appeal even more so as business people will not wade through visually-demanding documents (all print/little white space).

One of the most important changes in writing, however, is the thinking behind the writing process.

Good documents now have a strong infrastructure. This infrastructure or blueprint is based on research on how ideas can be effectively arranged. Every letter, memo, report, proposal and business case plan now has a proven format associated with it. By using the appropriate format, the writer can order his ideas so they match the needs of the reader's mind; he will include the relevant data in a powerful manner and eliminate the inessentials.

When a writer arranges his thoughts using the appropriate blueprint, he increases its clarity, reduces his writing time, and decreases the length of his documents.

Remember, today's writing requires many ingredients:

- Clarity and conciseness
- Good grammar
- Visual appeal
- Appropriate tone
- Organized structure

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