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Innovating A Writing Program
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

Many companies over the past few years have introduced programs to improve the quality of their correspondence and reports. Some programs have been enormously successful; others have fizzled.

The reason: employees will change only if senior management is thoroughly sold on the need for change and announces that all employees are expected to co-operate. One of the most successful programs I was involved with had the president's full backing; he demonstrated this by announcing that writing ability was to be considered in every job appraisal.

A second problem involves learning strategies. Learning a new activity and turning it into a habit takes only a couple of weeks. However, research shows it usually takes about six weeks to unlearn a long-term behaviour and to firmly entrench a change. Unfortunately, too many training programs do not offer a follow-up method to keep the changes fully in the forefront of the employee's mind for the necessary period of time.

If you are planning to initiate a writing program for your company, here are proven ways to ensure your success:

1. Review an extensive sampling of the reports and correspondence produced by each department. Work with senior managers on an individual basis to determine their perceptions of areas of improvement.

2. Design a workshop specifically tailored for your staff.

3. Meet with senior managers in a group setting to outline the workshop's agenda and to explain key objectives. The workshop can still be fine-tuned at this point.

4. Instruct managers on the combined art of editing and coaching so they can provide constructive feedback.

5. Encourage managers to attend the workshop with their staff.

6. Have the program announced by a high-ranking executive to give it proper weight. The announcement should stress the purpose and importance of the program.

7. Deliver the workshop to groups of 15 to 20 people, preferably from the same department. I believe a two-day workshop with built-in practice sessions works well to jump-start a writing program. (Although it is preferable to divide the course into modules conducted over several weeks, it is my experience that this seldom works as people do not stay committed to attending.)

8. Present each participant with a comprehensive manual that serves as a reference guide after the workshop.

9. Insist that after the workshop, participants submit samples of their writing at regular intervals to ensure they are continuing to incorporate the new style. The samples should be submitted two weeks, six weeks and ten weeks after the workshop. The samples should be critiqued and returned directly to the writers with suggestions for any necessary improvement.

10. Set up a hot-line number to assist participants with specific problems.

11. Send staff-periodically-brief reminder bulletins or e-mails on writing points.

12. Include articles on business writing in the company newsletter.

13. Update all the company's form letters. This is a key area and one that is often overlooked.

14. Prepare a style manual for all employees describing how letters, memos, and reports should be laid out. Among other things, it should include recommended type sizes, fonts, and the company rules for capitalization and spelling. Every new employee should be given a copy.

15. Encourage managers to praise good writers and to post samples of excellent writing-in a prominent place.

Too often training doesn't take because of limited buy-in or follow-up. However, following these proven steps guarantees your company's money and your staff's time is well spent. And, you will notice a definite, long-term difference in the written communications of your people.

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