Ten Tips On Choosing A Writing Consultant
by Gary BlakeWhen you hire an instructor to teach writing within your organization, you're really looking for a person who is a combination teacher, diplomat, writer, psychologist, scholar, businessperson, and motivator. Here's our list of ten tips on choosing the best writing instructor for your organization:
- Experience Counts. The more you teach, the more fluent and clear you become. It's only through experience that you find increasingly better ways to explain the subject. Choose a consultant who has had at least ten years' experience in teaching writing skills to businesspeople.
- A Publishing Track Record Is Important. When you publish books and articles in your field, you show that you're a leader, someone who is involved in innovation. With so many writing consultants to choose from, you should look for one who has written at least one or two books in the field as well as several dozen articles.
- Good References. There's no substitute for having clients who will speak up for an instructor and willingly tell others about the value of that instructor's services. Once you get a list of names, titles, phone numbers, and addresses of several current clients, call them. Find out about the consultant's commitment to the client, how many long-term relationships have been forged, and specifics on the consultant's work. Focus less on the popularity of the class than on its relevance and effectiveness.
- Excellent Training Materials. A writing class depends on well written and well-designed training materials--exercises, articles, overheads, bibliographies, explanations. The materials should be neat, uniform, and easy to read as well as to re-read.
- Sensitivity to Your Corporate Culture. Has an instructor taught in your environment before? It's very different teaching writing at a steel mill in Indiana, a law firm on Park Avenue, and an aircraft company in Southern California. Make sure your writing instructor has some background or empathy with your industry, type of employee, and departmental needs.
- Pre-Course Preparation. Much of the success of a writing seminar depends on how well a writing instructor prepares for the class. Find out the extent of the consultant's pre-course preparation such as a needs assessment, a writing assignment, or a review of participant writing samples.
- Follow-Up. You have a right to expect an instructor to offer an innovative type of follow-up to the seminar. This can be in the form of post-course interviews, a follow-up day of instruction, access to a hotline, or access to a fax editorial service.
- Flexibility. A writing consultant should be ready to tailor the program to fit the client. That may mean offering the class one day instead of two; offering it over a period of several weeks; or offering it in the evenings.
- Don't Settle for "Second Best." Large consulting organizations have an arsenal of people who are trained to teach a specific course. But, since most participants like to feel they are "going to the source," we suggest that when possible, hire the person who developed the course rather than settling for a consulting firm's "second team."
- Wide Acceptance in the Field. A writing instructor's acceptance among peers assures you that the information being passed along is accurate and timely. Anyone can get an article published somewhere, and many writing consultants actually self-publish so it looks like they have a "book in the field." So, when you ask potential instructors about their published work, measure the work by the prestige of the publication or publishing firm, actual number of books sold, and the length of time the books have been in print.
GARY BLAKE is Director of The Communication Workshop, a firm devoted to writing skills training. He is the co-author of six books on writing, including The Elements of Technical Writing (Macmillan), How To Promote Your Own Business (New American Library), and The Elements of Business Writing (Macmillan). Now in its 23rd printing, The Elements of Business Writing has 125,000 copies in print.