RE: How formal or informal?

Subject: RE: How formal or informal?
From: "Cook, Jenise" <jenise -dot- cook-crabbe -at- pacificlife -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 17:56:46 -0800

Hi, Jo:

First, this is a long response. Here's my background: I've worked in the
financial services industry almost all of my life, writing policy and
procedures. And, I taught ESL to adults (Community Colleges) for three
years. Now, let me dig in!

It's a good thing that you'll ask various people from within the bank for
their opinions. However, your best resource will be a focus group of
employees among your targeted audience group. Create some sample procedures
based on your new documentation methodology, and perform usability tests
with this focus group to ensure your new methodology works.

For example, provide the focus group with a "re-engineered" procedure on how
to review a completed loan application package. (Let's say, a quality
review, where s/he looks for all completed fields on the "app" and all
required paperwork enclosed in the package.) Give the focus group members
the procedures and some sample loan application packages. The ground rules
are they receive instructions only from the procedures, not from you.
Observe their behaviors. After this test, ask them for their feedback.
Assure them over and over again that you want them to be honest and that
it's okay to say something negative. Several members may be from cultures
where it is grossly impolite to tell you what s/he really feels. In this
case, it may help to bring in a third party (from outside of the bank) to
facilitate the focus group. Perhaps completing a simple yes/no anonymous
feedback survey might help you get the honest comments you'll need.

After the focus group, please include this next suggested step that I've
learned from past experience in banking. Once you have decided how you will
write for your targeted audience, I strongly recommend forwarding, through
your management, a sample document to your very senior people: VPs and EVPs,
as appropriate. You will be glad to get their buy-in before you go out and
publish up a storm. Especially the EVPs/VPs of HR, Internal Audit, and
Marketing (They may already be a part of your documentation review cycle.).
Be prepared to "sell" your approach with facts. Be sensitive to those senior
executives who are the federal regulations watch-dogs. They shouldn't be a
problem, however, you never know.

Believe it or not, for ESL folks, I do not recommend a "folksy" tone, and
please stay away from contractions, unless your audience uses them easily in
daily conversational English. Over and over, my students struggled with
contractions. A high-intermediate community college ESL student wouldn't
struggle with contractions as much. And, yes, you are correct: no slang, no

Write in simple declarative sentences. Use **lots** of graphics to explain
procedures. Avoid tag questions (She is a woman, isn't she?) as that is a
hard concept for many ESL students to grasp without classroom instruction.

Honestly, if you can afford it, have a third party conduct an ESL
proficiency level test to find out what is the actual reading level of your
audience. Once you know the reading level, you'll know how to phrase your
instructional procedures. (Explaining policy is another question! Use lots
of graphics.)

Your local community college's ESL Director would be a great first contact
for this kind of service. Heck, if there's a graduate level ESL program at
your local university, maybe a future ESL instructor studying for his/her
M.A. in TESOL* would be willing to conduct the test as a program project
(independent study). They may be able to test using the TEFL exam. If you go
this route, or any testing route, make sure you have H.R. in your hip
pocket. Testing could be a sensitive issue. Some employees could get really
nervous, thinking if they "fail" they would lose their job.

As for using the same methodolody (style) with your systems analysts and
engineers, I'm assuming that they might have an issue with that. You have
two very distinct audiences, and my guess is you will have to write to each
audience's reading level.

For ESL employees/audience, we need to remember not to confuse a low
proficiency in reading with intelligence and previous education from a
person's native country. I had many doctors, Ph.d.s, and university
professors in my "level 0" ESL classes.

Also, when you are ready to roll out your "re-engineered" procedure manuals,
you might want to enlist your training department. When I taught complex
grammatical constructions in my higher level ESL classes, I used a lot of
visuals (realia), lots of graphics and simple declarative sentences, and...
my award-winning "acting skills". Your trainers could have tons of fun
teaching procedures classes using ESL's "natural language" methodologies.
Search the Internet for effective ESL methodologies.

There are several tech. writers on this listserv who have also taught ESL in
former (or present) lives. I'm sure they have good wealth and wisdom to
share. I hope they take the time to respond to you.

Finally, have a really good time with this project! It sounds like great

*TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Jenise Cook-Crabbe
Sr. Technical Writer
Pacific Life Insurance Co.
jenise -dot- cook-crabbe -at- pacificlife -dot- com
The opinions expressed in this
e-mail are mine and mine alone.
They are not my employer's.


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