Have been gathering requirements for the land surveying application I'm working on for my brothers and it's an interesting exercise doing so remotely. But one of the things that has worked remarkably well is using an instant messenging client rather than a phone call.

There are two things I've come to like about it: First, there's a copy of what was said. Granted, it's not in the most structured format but at least it's searchable from a SharePoint site.

Secondly, and your results may vary, but I find it's easier to stay focussed on one aspect of the requirements when you're typing things out. People are less likely to "blurt" things out when they have to type it in. This is typically more pronounced if you can type faster than they can.

And it forces them (eventually) to explain things in a way that's easy to understand. I put (eventually) in parentheses there because it takes a few initial prompts of, "what do you mean?" before some people get in a mode where they put some thought into what they're typing. But when they do, they are a lot less likely to start sentences without knowing how they are going to end, which is a problem I find myself battling sometimes when I'm speaking aloud.

It's kind of a variation on the theme: The act of explaining a problem is enough to identify a solution. A theme I've been sorely lacking in my little caribbean hovel. Of course, it helps that the client is my own family and they know how anal I am about grammar in MSN Messenger.

But in general, I still find most people put more effort into what they type than what they say. Maybe it's the impression that anything typewritten is more formal than the spoken word. Maybe in the back of their mind, they're considering that what they say will be saved and used against them. Whatever the case, I'm liking the results.

Plus you don't need to brush your teeth before talking to them.

Kyle the Remote