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The dotted i's have it

By Susannah Hardy

It's difficult to spell success if writing skills are left to languish, writes Susannah Hardy. 

Forms of communication have changed drastically because of constant developments in technology and the overwhelming popularity of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, as some methods leap forward, good, old-fashioned writing skills are starting to suffer, particularly in the workplace, where, for most professions, they are vital.

GumLeafGreen offers training programs and consulting services to help businesses provide effective communication. Its director, Sue Tomat, knows the importance of good writing.

"Writing is a necessary part of any job involving winning new business, communicating with customers and clients, or reporting on progress and performance. All of these activities involve writing," she says. "By writing excellent documents more efficiently, we not only spend less time at our computers, we also spend less time answering questions from confused and frustrated readers."

However, people are not always aware of how much writing their job requires and, in Tomat's experience, most are surprised and horrified.

"I often work with people who have chosen careers that they believe won't involve much writing, but soon discover that to advance those careers they must become good and efficient writers. Classic examples are accountants and engineers."

For Jacqueline Christie, a partner at law firm Clayton Utz, excellent writing skills are critical. "Whether we are preparing contracts, court documents or letters of advice, words are our tools of trade and you cannot be a good lawyer without being able to express yourself clearly in writing," she says.

Christie also values a sound knowledge of grammar. "It may be that a document is legally correct and well written, but if it contains bad grammar, the credibility of thework, and the credibility of the lawyer who prepared it, is immediately diminished."

Police officers are also among those who need such skills and, in fact, recruits cannot become constables without them. "Police officers utilise their writing skills on a daily basis," says Sergeant Darren Critchley, from the recruitment branch of the NSW Police Force.

"An example would include taking reports from victims of crime and writing down all the relevant details regarding the incident in their police notebook, which later may be relied upon in court as evidence."

The ability to write well not only enables a person to do their job properly but can also give employees an edge.

The course manager at the Sydney Writers' Centre, Danielle Williams, has noticed a significant increase in the demand for business writing courses.

"Many people do our courses because they've identified their writing skills are holding them back from getting a pay rise or their dream job," she says.

As a result, Williams finds that a cross-section of the professional community enrols in their courses. "We initially thought that we would get the bulk of our students from technical roles like engineering, but we get just as many from disciplines like law, marketing and customer service."

Although Williams sees social media as partly responsible for the demise of writing skills, she believes people's abilities depend on their school or university education.

"If you were lucky enough to attend a school or be allocated to a teacher who felt this was important, then chances are that you received a good grounding in this area," she says. "But if you didn't, then you might have missed out."

Fortunately, these skills can be learnt. The Sydney Writers' Centre offers courses that identify the key principles of good business writing.

"We know that some people can spend hours stressing over having to write a simple report," Williams says. "When you learn the right rules, then the whole writing process becomes easier and more enjoyable."

Published: 17 November 2012

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