Phil Castle, The Business Times
Janet Arrowood makes it her business to help companies and organizations improve communication. She sees — and reads — the problems that arise from not identifying the correct audience or asking for what’s wanted.
The overriding principle, Arrowood said, should be to convey a message in clear and simple fashion.
Anyone can improve their writing, but it takes an organized approach and practice, she said.
Arrowood serves as founder and managing director of the Write Source, a company she recently moved from Southern Arizona to Grand Junction. The firm offers a range of services, including writing, editing and training. Her customers include companies of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 1000 corporations, as well as nonprofit organizations, government agencies and trade and professional associations.
Arrowood started the Write Source in 1993, drawing on her experiences in technical writing, editing and training in the Army and defense industry. While she holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Vanderbilt University, she said she also was proficient enough as a writer to test out of the English course.
She operated the Write Source in Denver before moving to Arizona. She realized, though, she missed Colorado and the opportunities to hike and bike. She said she found what she was looking for in Grand Junction and a place that offers not only outdoor recreation, but also good restaurants.
Working with subcontractors with expertise in different areas, Arrowood helps companies write and edit technical documents and trains their employees to become more effective writers and editors. She also helps organizations write grant proposals.
Arrowood said those who produce business documents often write for themselves and their supervisors rather than identify their intended audiences — those who can take action on a request or proposal.
It’s important, she said, for businesses to correctly identify who they’re writing to, what they’re writing and what they’re requesting. “You need to know what you want them to do.”
Whether written or presented, communications should be logically organized for the intended audience and clearly convey key points, she said. It’s better to keep sentences short and limit paragraphs to a single idea. Good writers make their documents clear, simple and easy to follow.
Helping organizations write grant proposals often means ensuring they comply with the requirements of those awarding grants, Arrowood said. “The people that have the money make the rules.”
In some instances, requirements dictate not only the content and organization of grant proposals, but even the size and typeface of the print.
Unlike some businesses that charge a percentage of grant, Arrowood said she charges a flat amount or hourly rate.
Arrowood also emphasizes to her clients the importance of using plain language. She’s written several reference books and handbooks, including one titled “Plain Language, Please: How to Write for Results.”
The federal government has implemented regulations requiring the use of plain language that’s simple and understandable, she said.
While some people might be tempted to write in a way that makes them appear smarter or more impressive, Arrowood said plain language remains the more effective choice.
One adjective works better than three, she said. Commas and hyphens must be used correctly. There’s a stark difference, for example, between sentences describing a man eating lobster and a man-eating lobster.
Like a house painter who becomes more proficient with each job, writers who go through an organized process also can improve, she said. “Anybody can become a good writer.”
Arrowood makes it her business to help. But it also takes an effort to communicate in a clear and simple fashion. “You get much better results.”
For more information about the Write Source, visit the website at www.thewritesourceinc.com.