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Why Teach Business Writing?

I spent Friday in Portland, Oregon, at the regional conference of the ATD (Association for Talent Development) Cascadia Chapter. My husband Michael and I spent time there talking with training professionals about business writing.

And why should anyone care about training employees and managers in business writing? Why is writing important? Here are 8 reasons.

1. Everyone writes.
With a computer in every office and lab and at every worksite, employees in all disciplines are required to write. Yet many have not learned to write effectively. According to data collected between 2014 and 2016, 44% of managers feel that writing proficiency is the skill most lacking among recent college graduates.

2. Everyone sends email.
For tasks that once meant picking up the phone or meeting in person, people now send email. According to a 2017 Forbes article, employees receive at least 200 emails a day and spend 2.5 hours daily reading and responding to email.

3. Readers have changed.
Our readers used to be down the hall or across the country. Now they speak English as a second, third, or fourth language, and they work around the globe. An estimated 1.4 billion people use English in business communication, yet only 400 million of them are native English speakers. Having a global reading audience places new demands on writers.

4. Schools don’t teach business writing.
Colleges and universities require undergraduates to take composition and rhetoric–not business writing. Graduate schools require research papers and dissertations—not persuasive proposals and action-oriented email. Academic writing is different from business writing. Learn more about the differences in my blog post 7 Business Writing Truths for College Grads.

5. Even highly talented associates may not write well to varied audiences.
Data analysts may write perfect reports for other analysts. Engineers give the right detailed findings to their fellow engineers. But when any employees communicate outside their peer group–let’s say, to senior executives or customers–they need special skills to organize information, eliminate jargon, and focus on their readers’ needs.

6. Smart software doesn’t ensure smart writing.
Templates, wizards, spell-checking, and grammar-checking do not guarantee documents that are clear, concise, strategic, and focused on the reader’s needs. Unfortunately, software builds false security–not strong documents. When company administrators say, ‘We have the budget for only essential classes like software training,” those who care about writing need to respond, “But what do employees do with the software they learn to use? They compute, design, analyze, and write.”

7. Bad writing is as damaging as bad customer service and bad products.
Everyone has horror stories describing situations like these:

  • Ineffective, embarrassing messages are sent to customers, clients, and other stakeholders.
  • Time and money are squandered to rectify writing errors–sometimes in court.
  • Proposals fail when writers don’t meet readers’ expectations or deadlines.
  • Supervisors and managers waste time editing and rewriting documents.
  • Employees miss out on opportunities to contribute. They don’t write proposals, recommendations, and other important documents when they lack skills and confidence.

8. Good writing can do great things.
Effective reports, proposals, requests, assessments, and other business documents can:

  • Get results.
  • Inspire action, confidence, and commitment.
  • Sell products and services.
  • Create and maintain goodwill.
  • Save time and other resources.
  • Lead to personal fulfillment and professional success.

What could be more essential than effective business writing?

Tune up your business writing in my online self-study course Business Writing Tune-Up.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

One comment on “Why Teach Business Writing?”

  • I have just received my first newsletter from Syntax (thank you). I commend you for modeling what you recommend (quick response, specific references). As I read through the information and the examples of types of notes, I was struck by the similarity between your recommendations and what is generally advised to supervisors when providing feedback: be immediate, specific, respectful, and positive.

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