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Review: An Excellent College Textbook

College instructors sometimes ask me to recommend a text to use in their business writing classes. Until now, I haven't had a satisfactory answer. But I am pleased to recommend Business Writing Scenarios: Writing From the Inside, by Jon R. Ramsey, published in February by Bedford/St. Martin's (who sent me a review copy). It's an excellent text for undergraduate and even MBA students. 

Effective and ineffective examples, accompanied by commentary, fill the 272-page paperback and illustrate valuable lessons. (I counted around 90 examples.) Living up to its title, Business Writing Scenarios also contains abundant realistic, demanding writing scenarios. Assignments cover explanations, requests, bad-news messages, inquiries, solicitations, messages saying no, complaint resolutions, a range of job-search messages, and other pieces. And meaty writing assignments–among them a policy, business plan, and grant proposal–provide bigger challenges for students writing in teams. 

I especially like the coaching that accompanies each assignment. Both instructors and students can benefit from the tips on completing the assignment–tips about the purpose of the message, its audience, the communication strategy, and content. Instructors can never be sure where students may go wrong with a writing assignment that requires them to imagine themselves communicating on the job. The tips in Business Writing Scenarios make the instructor's job easier and the student's likelihood of success greater. 

Two instructors who wrote to me in search of a college text complained about the overly simplified content they found in business writing textbooks. They won't find that in Business Writing Scenarios, with its complex assignments and sophisticated content.

The chapter "Writing to Colleagues Within the Organization" shares valuable insights on office politics and communication pitfalls. The chapter "Business Document Design, Formats, and Conventions" offers smart suggestions on appropriately complex examples. (Too often books try to illustrate document design with short, simple examples.) My one complaint is that the pieces sometimes include lengthy paragraphs that slow readers down. Breaking up long paragraphs when the topic shifts would make the pieces easier to scan. 

The chapter "Business Writing Gaffes in the Real World" features authentic examples of communication and decision making gone wrong. These gaffes aren't silly typos. They include lies, insults, non-apologies, ill-timed and embarrassing tweets, information leaks, imprudent emails, and woefully thoughtless public messages. It would be terrific if these examples made students think twice in the future–and then not publish a stupid, reckless message. 

Business Writing Scenarios includes no content on grammar, punctuation, usage, or sentence structure–nothing on the basics. But for instructors who aren't looking for a basic text, it may be the perfect choice.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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