A study to determine the amount and kinds of non-dictated business writing done by high-level secretaries in the United States



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The problem investigated In this study involved these aspects; first, to determine the kinds of non-diotated business writing done by high-level secretaries? second, to determine the amount of each kind of such writing done by secretaries; third, to determine the opinions of secretaries as to the ease or difficulty of composing each kind of communication; and fourth, to relate the amounts, kinds, and difficulty of writing to the secretaries' various positions and educational backgrounds. Composing business communications is a primary secretarial duty, but, unlike duties Involving secretarial skills, no study had been recorded of the specific nature of this writing and of the factors which affected it. A check list of forty items (Including letters, reports, items for publication and miscellaneous writing) was sent to secretaries In sixty cities throughout the United States, with the request that they indicate those which they wrote frequently, seldom, and never. They were also asked to furnish information as to their educational background in English and business writing, the kind and size of company for which they worked, the official positions of their Immediate supervisors, and the length of their secretarial service. Those who returned the check lists were asked to send typical samples of the kinds of written communlcatlona which they were accustomed to composing in their offices. Two hundred twenty secretaries from fifty-two cities in thirty-seven states responded by returning the check lists, and eighty-four of these sent five hundred twenty samples of their non-dietated writing. Data were analyzed relative to the amount and kinds of the communications and of the opinions of the secretaries as to the ease or difficulty of each item. Also, the writing samples were read and appraised, with special attention given to spelling, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, tone, and reader appeal. Secretaries wrote a greater variety of communications than had been realized by most writers of textbooks and reference books in collegiate secretarial training. The most frequently written letters were those of transmittal, Inquiry, instruction, reply, order, follow-up, and personnel. Letters for purely good will purposes were written by large numbers of high-level secretaries, especially in organizations which emphasize public service. The letters written least often were those serving as contracts, presenting bids for services or goods, and introducing new products or services to prospective customers. Reports were not so frequently written by secretaries as were letters. The type of report most frequently written was the periodic report; the type least often written was sections of the company's annual report to the stockholders. The geographic scope of a company's operations and. the number of persons it employed, were determining factors In the number and kinds of letters a secretary composed. Other influences upon the secretary's writing duties were the official position of her immediate superior and the type of business for which she worked. Secretaries considered letters expressing sympathy or condolence, presenting complaints, and giving Instructions about company procedures most difficult to write. Memoranda to company personnel, texts for public speeches, analyses of statistical reports, and articles and notices for company publications were also checked by most secretaries as being difficult to compose. The least difficult were letters of order and acknowledgment and bulletin board notices. Generally speaking, more secretaries with college training in English and business writing considered composing business communications difficult than those with high school or business school training. The reason for this difference of opinions was that most writers with only high school or business school training relied largely upon form letters and stereotyped messages. Although they discerned no difficulties with writing, they lacked, in most cases, the vocabulary and writing finesse Which was evident in the samples sent by most of the college trained secretaries. Length of employment had a favorable effect upon the secretary's opinion of writing difficulty, but the years did not necessarily Improve the secretary's ability with regard to grammar, vocabulary, or reader appeal. These qualities were more dependent upon her educational background. One area of information which this study helped to clarify was the large share of responsibility for written communications which modern business has placed upon the high-level secretary. Along with this, secretarial writers are subject to the same habits of good and poor writing which prevail in business communication generally. These two facts constitute a challenge to secretaries and educators who are interested in improving the performance standards in every phase of the secretary's work and enhancing the position of the secretary as a key professional person.