Correspondence school. (business letter-writing software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Rosalind Resnick
Despite the advent of the phone, the fax, the modem, and the Post-it note, the old-fashioned art of letter writing remains a vital skill for home office professionals.
For many small businesses, a prompt, well-written letter can mean the difference between money collected on time and a major cash crunch, a satisfied customer and an ex-customer, a thriving company and a bankrupt one. Trouble is, despite the many advances in communications technology, few business owners have the time to sit down and tap out a full-length letter on their word processors.
Now, fortunately, there are two new software programs that make letter writing a snap. One is Parsons Technology's Personal Advocate ($69.00; Parsons Technology, One Parsons Drive, P.O. Box 100, Hiawatha, Iowa 52233; 800-223-6925), designed primarily with the individual consumer in mind, which churns out everything from complaints to the Better Business Bureau to demands for past-due alimony and child support. Personal Advocate requires an IBM PC compatible computer, hard drive, 512K RAM, DOS v. 2.11 or higher. There's also MyQuickWriter ($24.95; MySoftware Company, 1259 El Camino Real, Suite 167, Menlo Park, California 94025; 415-325-9372), intended for the small-business crowd, that lets users tailor a series of form letters to create their own collection notices, product announcements, thank-you letters, and other correspondence. MyQuickWriter requires an IBM PC compatible computer, 512K RAM, DOS v. 2.0 or higher.
Both programs are quick, easy to learn, and simple to use. Personal Advocate provides interactive templates that prompt users to fill in the blanks; MyQuickWriter lets users edit prewritten form letters. Both programs allow letters to be printed out or saved as ASCII text files for further refinement on the word processor of the user's choice.
Of the two programs, Personal Advocate clearly covers more turf. Aimed at helping consumers cut through red tape to get action, receive information, or just express their views, Personal Advocate is capable of spitting out close to 40 of the most commonly written letters to credit, consumer, and governmental agencies. Personal Advocate also includes an expandable address book database of roughly 2500 names, addresses, and phone numbers of major corporations, Better Business Bureaus, consumer groups, and other organizations across the country.
Also, Personal Advocate goes out of its way to make sure you do things right. Every time a blank space appears in one of the letter templates, a prompt appears at the bottom of the screen to tell you what to do. If you forget to fill in a blank, a help screen pops up, commanding you to go back and insert the missing data. In addition, there's a glossary of legal and technical terms, an expert guide help system, and a shortcut key list, plus special features like mouse support, a math calculator, a notepad, a calendar, and resizable windows. On the other hand, Personal Advocate hogs a lot of disk space--over 3MB.
MyQuickWriter, by contrast, is a more modest program that, for the home office professional, is probably more useful. Though MyQuickWriter lacks an address book, online prompts, mouse support, and a number of other niceties, it takes up only half a megabyte of storage and churns out all the standard business correspondence plus a nifty QuickFax form. MyQuickWriter's letters, while a little less polished than Personal Advocate's, are short, businesslike, and to the point. Especially noteworthy is a series of 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day past-due collection letters, each progressively more threatening.
MyQuickWriter also offers vital editing features, such as a spelling checker, search-and-replace capability, page numbering, autoindent, and a novel formatting feature that instantly converts correspondence into memos, business letters, and five other styles.
At the same time, some of MyQuickWriter's letters are hackneyed. On the other hand, these PC-generated business letters do get the job done and do it fast. After all, 'tis better to have mailed a trite but grammatically correct form letter than never to have mailed at all.