How to Pick a Business Writing Workshop

You’re a manager in pain: the staff can’t write! Productivity, credibility, and careers are suffering — theirs and yours. They need training, but what will work?

Should I try distance learning?

Business writing workshops on DVD or the Internet are the next best thing to onsite instruction for individual writers in far-away places. They’re cheap and easy, and if you point your staff to them, you’ll feel you’ve done something.

But distance learning demands special discipline. Thousands of writers began the videotapes and self-paced exercises I wrote for the U.S. Air Force, but fewer finished. Similar declines affected my interactive television programs for the U.S. Social Security Administration. When office staffs around the country went home each night, they cooked dinner and tended children instead of doing homework exercises.

What sort of business writing workshop works better?

Live instruction is more compelling than light on a screen, though think twice about business writing workshops open to the public. I walked out of the three “hotel courses” I attended over the years because the audiences weren’t getting their money’s worth. Part-time instructors mouthed canned lectures in front of passive audiences that were too large for give and take and too diverse for focused instruction. Your best option for a business writing workshop is live instruction at your company.

How do I tell onsite business writing workshops apart?

Look for instruction tailored to your staff’s needs. Done right, it will help participants learn faster and remember longer. To show you what’s possible in a business writing workshop, here’s the tailoring offered by the Murawski Group:

  • Illustrations and exercises developed from client writing form the core of each business writing workshop of ours.
  • We look for ways to improve the client’s processes and formats. Our business writing workshops have prompted many organizational improvements.
  • Every business writing workshop ends with personal coaching on each participant’s own writing, which the instructor edits in advance.
  • For six months after a business writing workshop, participants may send us their writing for the instructor’s comments.

What should the instruction cover—grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

None of the above, except for an occasional comment. If writers put periods in the wrong places or don’t make verbs agree with subjects, they probably write routine administrative things and need extended remedial instruction.

An effective business writing workshop focuses on higher, more-elusive goals: content that’s suitable for the audience, organization that’s easy to navigate, and wording that’s efficient.

How much time does that higher focus take?

I don’t know what the competition offers, though clearly workloads are growing and attention spans are shrinking, so staffs won’t sit for long. Our typical business writing workshop lasts one or two days for 10-20 participants. Then each participant meets with the instructor for 45 minutes of personal coaching.

What qualifications should the instructor have?

Look for someone who teaches business writing workshops a lot and has the education, experience, and commitment to devote days to customizing your program. Call references.

Our three instructors, all published book authors, hold doctorates in English. We’ve worked together full time for decades, since completing Air Force careers that included many years of teaching writing and speaking at the Air Force Academy. We tailor every business writing training workshop to the client organization.

After credentials, consider teaching style. The instructor should mix lecture, discussion, and practice in ways that both educate and motivate. For many people, taking a business writing workshop ranks with sticking pins in their eyes. Lively teaching eases their anxiety.

How will I know I’m getting results?

Check the client list. Clients for our business writing workshops include Fortune 500 companies, all 15 federal cabinet departments, and the White House. Most of our business comes from repeat clients such as NASA and Starbucks. If they didn’t see results, these savvy clients would have dumped us long ago.

Over the decades, client managers have told us they see improvement right away. Paperwork gets through faster, with fewer edits. In a recent survey taken months after a business writing workshop of ours, 100% of the participants reported that their writing had improved, and fully half described the improvement as “significant.”

What’s the cost of an onsite business writing workshop?

Ask for a quote (our prices vary by class size and length). Recently we did some work for two national consulting companies that charge 25% more for their workshops, all off the shelf. Our prices are competitive.