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Fine Writing from Ballard High School

I like to praise fine writing wherever I find it. This week we received our daughter’s welcome letter to the high school she will attend in September. The packet was filled with rich details, and the letter introduced them perfectly. I share the first half of the letter as an example of how to communicate complex information simply for a broad audience. See my commentary at the end.

Dear Student:

Welcome to Ballard High School!

This packet contains the following information to help you choose classes and activities for next year.

  1. A registration sheet (yellow) on which you must list your class choices for next year.
  2. A sample schedule sheet (on the back of this letter) to show you the different options.
  3. An information sheet about courses and programs that require a separate application.
  4. A survey (blue) for you to fill out regarding athletics and activities.
  5. An information sheet for the 2008-2009 sports season.
  6. A course catalog, which includes important four-year planning information.

Please fill out the yellow registration sheet and the blue activities survey and bring them to your middle school on the day indicated below. Ballard High School counselors will visit you at your middle school and will collect the yellow registration sheet and the blue activities sheet at the following times. . . .

What’s wonderful about this letter is that it gets right to the point and includes no extraneous information. There’s no philosophizing about the exciting world of learning ahead. There’s no blustering about the absolute need to get forms in on time. There’s no background information about how the student was assigned to Ballard High School. (We already know that.) There are just simple instructions, good information, and the phone number to reach the Ballard High School counselors, along with their names.

Besides a clear, concise letter, the envelope contained everything promised in the letter, packaged in the same order as the 1-6 items.

The learning I take away from this excellent communication is this: give your readers what they need–no more, no less.

Thanks to Ballard High School and the Seattle Public Schools for such an instructive, valuable example!

Syntax Training 

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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.