Author Q&A Session: John W. Swain, Kathleen Dolan Swain

Authors of Effective Writing in the Public Sector, John W. Swain, and Kathleen Dolan Swain, discuss their title and what makes the title so unique. 

Swain, and Swain also discuss 'Special Writing Challenges in the Public Sector' in the ILCMA Newlsetter, page 14, here.

1.Who is your intended audience for this book, and how have you met the needs of this market?

We designed this book for students and practitioners in public administration because of the unique challenges they face in everyday writing. For example, individuals in the public sector need to be able to write to a wide range of audiences, from individual citizens to specialists to the public at large, and to do so clearly, concisely, and sometimes persuasively. These writers therefore need to understand how to identify the audience they are writing to and choose the right tone and words to convey their message. Our book meets these needs by first providing a refresher course on basic writing skills and then delving deeper into how to use these skills to address the right audience with the right form of communication. We discuss the many forms used in public administration, from e-mails and letters to various kinds of proposals to budget justifications.

2.Tell us about some of the case studies in your book and what makes them valuable.

We do not have case studies per se. Instead, we provide many real-world examples of various forms of communication that public sector writers need to write and then show the readers how to improve their writing to get their message out in the way they intended. In line with this feature, each chapter contains exercises and our suggested answers so readers can practice their new writing skills.

3.What will students and lecturers be able to take away from your book?

What we hope to impart most of all is that writing correctly, clearly, and concisely contributes to success. Students who write effectively receive better grades. Practitioners who write effectively are likely to gain positive attention and promotions. Governments and staff who write effectively more ably serve their publics—and that means all of us benefit.

4.What makes your book so unique to others in the field?

Many books and guides address writing problems, but none directly focuses on the uniqueness of communications in public organizations in a way that directly addresses the real-life situations faced by public officials and staff members. Even the most famous of those efforts, the “Plain Language” initiative led by former vice president Al Gore, focused primarily on writing problems pertaining to federal regulations. Other books seem to be geared toward those who need to write regulations, technical reports, or policy documents. What was needed, and what we hope we accomplished, was to provide a straightforward guide to assist public sector officials with writing problems they regularly encounter. It is designed to be used both as a general guide and as a resource to assist in particular writing situations.

5.What findings in writing/researching the book surprised you?

We were a bit surprised by the amount of public sector writing we came across that indicated a general lack of basic writing skills and knowledge of how to write clearly and concisely. We were also surprised by the number of practitioners who do not know that everything written by a public official or staff member—yes, even e-mail—is ultimately a public document under the various Freedom of Information Acts, and thus ultimately the audience can be the media and every member of the community at large. Writing well and presenting one’s organization in a good light are therefore vitally important. 

Featured Titles

  • Effective Writing in the Public Sector

    1st Edition

    By John W. Swain, Kathleen Dolan Swain

    Intended for both students and practitioners in public administration who want to communicate more effectively with a variety of audiences, this book offers clear, easy-to-understand guidelines on how to write more clearly, concisely, and coherently, as well as correctly. It covers the basics of…

    Paperback – 2014-07-29
    Routledge