Writing letters is an integral part of office work – and in most cases this task is actually a bit more complex than it sounds. The need to keep track of letters, review them and revise them, have them approved, as well as make them look professional, all add up to a deceptively demanding requirements list. The least your writing tool could do is help you with all of this.
As part of our office team, I deal with these challenges every day. But since we started using Atlassian Confluence to write our business letters, I no longer do battle with my text tool in order to get what I want. Here's why you should consider adopting the same approach.
Metadata is what you need
Keeping track of correspondence is one of the most important factors of business communication. How can one know who was in contact with whom and when?
This information becomes especially important if the correspondence has lapsed. Being able to look up when you last wrote an official letter to the treasury department, for example, could be quite important if they're insisting that they haven't received your tax declarations.
If you are using a desktop-based text editor like Microsoft Word to write these letters, the only way you'd find this information is by looking at the file's creation date (assuming that you were able to find the location of the file in a folder structure at all). This can be a real problem if you don't have a very rigorous file storage structure in place, especially if the person who wrote the letter is on vacation right when you need to follow up.
In Confluence, you can quickly see who wrote a letter to whom and when
Use Confluence to write such letters if you want to easily find them, as well as see who created the letter, or when it was last modified. All of this information is retained as metadata, and is easily searchable.
A further time saver is the ability to comment, and involve or ask questions of your colleagues directly on the page with the content itself. Simply use an @-mention in an inline comment, leave a comment at the bottom of the page, or send a 'share' with a note to get feedback or let your vacation substitute know where they can find the letters they need to follow up on.
Using Confluence's history and metadata information to retrace communication steps makes resolving conflict points much easier.
Combining Confluence with Atlassian Jira is the next step if you require detailed tracking of correspondence information. We use the comment section on Jira issues to document correspondence content and details at K15t Software.
Hassle-free formatting and saving
A common frustration with text editors like Microsoft Word is being able to format your copy so it looks the way it's supposed to. If you're reading this post it's likely you've had trouble in the past with text wrapping, experienced odd table views, or wrestled with pictures being cropped strangely when using popular text editing tools like Word.
One of the things that I love about using Confluence to write business letters is that I only have to worry about the content, not the formatting.
Why? Because we've created a page template which has predefined macros and sections that format the copy I enter all on their own. Of course this takes a little initial effort to set up, but it has allowed us to say goodbye to unexpected formatting surprises after adding a line break or inserting an image.
Automatic saving and preformatted text entry make office life a little easier
Sometimes I need to email a PDF of a letter in addition to snail-mailing a hard copy. Confluence also handles this with ease. One option is to quickly output it directly to PDF as-is by using Contluence's native PDF export function. Or, if you have the Scroll PDF Exporter app installed, you can create predefined formatting templates that will automatically apply styling elements such as colors and fonts that conform to your organization's corporate style guide. Read more about the difference between these two approaches here.
Another problem I used to have when using a word processor like Microsoft Word was errors along the lines of "file was created in a newer version, opening it may lead to unexpected formatting issues". I'll bet this has happened to you at some point too – and once again Confluence wins through auto-saving and built-in version management.
An often-overlooked function of Confluence is hugely beneficial – automatic saving! Even if you forget to actively save, your content will still be there. No more gut wrenching feeling of losing hours of work, just because you failed to hit the crtl+s / cmd+s shortcut.
You'll even be able to go back to earlier versions of the letter if you wish via the page history function. If you need more robust tracking of your document change history, have a look at Scroll Document Versions for Confluence Cloud.
Approvals and accountability
In many office environments, one may need to write letters in someone else's name. These typically need to be approved before sending.
With a text editor like Microsoft Word, or Pages for Mac for that matter, approval processes can be cumbersome. Though these tools have improved their collaborative functionality of late, they were still not built from the ground up with notifications, discussion, and approval workflows in mind.
In Confluence the approval workflow is efficient and streamlined, since all users have easy access to the content and the ability to discuss and change it, right from their browser windows. All you need to do is write the letter on a Confluence page, and share it with the reviewer (by sharing the page or @-mentioning them in a comment for example).
If you also use Jira, you can manage the approval process with a ticket's workflow.
The reviewer will be able to directly make edits or leave inline or global comments in reply. You'll be notified of the changes, and have clean documentation of what's changed in case you need it for future reference (through Confluence's page history and resolved comments functionality).
Faster approval processes and automatic decision documentation in Confluence
More time for content
All in all, what I like most about using Confluence when writing business letters is that it eliminates a lot of busy work (searching, formatting, approval rounds, etc) and gives me more time to actually work on getting the letters done.
What do you think? Is a tool like Confluence better for writing letters or does a more traditional text editor offer features that you just can't live without? Let me know in the comments below.