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Writing: An Important Tool in Business
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

Peter Drucker, the father of the science of office management, says "As soon as you take one step up the career ladder your effectiveness depends on your ability to communicate your thoughts in writing and in speaking." In other words, if you want to be noticed within or outside your organization, you have to be able to express yourself-clearly and concisely.

However, many companies don't realize that this advice is as true today as it was ten years ago.

For example, a senior executive recently told me, "No one in my company writes anymore. We just send e-mails." Interesting thought. But totally naive. E-mails may have reduced the need for paper, snail mail and limbo time (the time a message spends in transit) but they still require the sender to convey his thoughts clearly and concisely, using the rules for good business writing.

In addition, e-mails are not as easy to write as some would think. In a recent consulting job, I found that the employees were sending such sloppy e-mails that they frequently had to send two or three messages to interpret their first transmission-a complete waste of time.

And writing short e-mail messages is often harder than writing longer documents. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote, "Sorry this is such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a short one."

Your writing creates an image

The company's and the writer's image are two more reasons for good writing skills. When a reader scans a document he subconsciously builds a picture of the writer. The writer can project the image of a conscientious, energetic professional, or the image of a bored bureaucrat marking time with an antiquated company.

Quite recently, a manager asked me to work with one of her new salespeople. After reading copies of the correspondence the salesman was sending to his customers, I pictured a man in his late fifties, probably with gray hair and blessed with old-world good manners. In actual fact, the salesman was just out of university. It turned out that the young man had been taking home all of his correspondence to write under the guidance of his father. The cheerful, straight forward and almost flip manner the salesman used on the phone and in face-to-face situations was in direct contrast to the old-fashioned, stilted correspondence he was submitting. Both customers and colleagues were confused by the opposing communication styles.

Good writing attracts customers

Good writing is a way of combating today's high cost of face-to-face sales calls. The president of a plumbing supply company recently told me that it doesn't pay to send his sales staff out on the road visiting smaller customers or to have them spend a day on the phone making long distance calls. He has found it more profitable for his staff to build relationships with some customers by faxing or mailing them well-crafted letters and flyers.

And a salesman's correspondence doesn't always have to be of a sales nature. Smart salespeople use the writing process to keep their names in front of a customer on a regular basis. George Rummage, former director of Direct Mail Advertising, said "A good letter can be you calling on a customer again and again."

Every person within an organization is in customer relations, but this message has not yet gotten through to all employees. I have seen situations where salespeople do back flips to get an account and then lose it because of the poor correspondence sent out by other departments within their companies.

Check your own business writing

I have heard people say, "I don't need help with my writing. I¹ve never had any complaints." Well, if you are a manager chances are your staff are not going to tell you that your memos require time and energy to interpret. If you haven't taken a business writing course in the past five years, your writing is probably in need of a tune-up.

Business writing has changed dramatically, as have readers. Years ago to be able to write was the sign of nobility and wealth. And to receive a letter was something special. Even up to the 1970's, writers sought to impress readers with their literary skills, and readers still took the time to thoroughly read their mail. In today's workplace, readers are too busy to spend vast amounts of time deciphering messages from long-winded letters and reports. Today's writer must write to inform, seek immediate action and create goodwill-in as short as space as possible.

Progressive companies carry out regular analyses of the correspondence and reports produced by their employees to ensure that the image and service level projected is consistent with the one they wish to convey. The analysis usually includes an examination of randomly-chosen letters, memos, reports, proposals, form letters and boiler-plated material and may also involve interviews with staff and clients.

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