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Business Writing for Brilliant People

One night last week I attended a dinner meeting of my local chapter of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), my professional organization of people who teach adults. We call ourselves trainers or workplace development specialists. A trainer at my table was surprised to learn that I teach writing to people who have jobs–and that I teach writing to smart people in savvy organizations. He asked, “Why do they need a writing class? Didn’t they take freshman composition?”

This question no longer surprises me since I hear it often. But here is the same question applied to other disciplines:

Why do they need a class in project management? Haven’t they been managing projects all their lives?

Why do they need training in presentation skills? Haven’t they been making presentations since third grade?

Why indeed?

Why a class in project management? Because managing complex projects in organizations requires special tools, systems, and skills. It takes more than organizing a rummage sale–even one with broken TV sets, lumpy saffron-colored couches, crates of National Geographic, and ashtrays.

Why training in presentation skills? Because a presentation to seal a million dollar deal is not the same as an 8-year-old’s presentation on George Washington’s winter at Valley Forge–although both may seem just as frightening at the time, especially if the computer crashes or the shoebox diorama collapses.

Why a class in business writing? Because writing proposals and recommendations is not the same as writing descriptive essays on angst in the dormitory or comparisons between the 20th and 21st centuries–although we may all feel just as exposed when we read the changes, comments, or red marks made by our managers or professors.

Highly trained specialists enroll in writing classes so they can write for senior executives. Engineers take writing workshops to learn to communicate with customers. Brilliant people take writing seminars so they can communicate with the rest of us. Practical people sign up for writing courses to get tools, tips, and strategies to write better.

Since I couldn’t say all of this while I was eating my plate of pasta at the ATD dinner, I have said it here. For more about the need for business writing classes, read my post “Why Teach Business Writing?”  To improve your skills, take my online self-study class Business Writing Tune-Up. It includes getting written feedback from me on your writing.


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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.