Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Poor Writing Costs Taxpayers Millions
This article really struck home with me. As a manager, I can't tell you how dumbfounded I am with the lack of writing skills in people 30 and younger (bloggers are an exception, or you wouldn't be blogging). Seriously, what are they teaching in schools nowadays??

And the worst of it is in Email. Email is a wonderful, efficient, tool to communicate in the workplace without having to spend time and money on memos, copies and distribution lists. It's immediate, it's able to be tracked through discussion threads, topics, etc.... But my Lord, some of the grammar and typos are simply unacceptable. Do you have any idea how many times I have to read a sentence with the word "irregardless" in it??? It's not a word!! It doesn't exist! And that's a very mild example. Another gripe is people who use text message shorthand in Email. "R U avlbl @ 1 4 a mtg?" is acceptable in a text message (barely), but in Email?? Speak English please.

I'm so struck by the letters and diaries written back as early as the 1930's and even more so, in the late 19th century. I have a book of letters written by Groucho Marx. He was an amazingly brilliant man - and so good with words! Likewise the letters of soldiers and their families during the Civil War. What became of that eloquence, that politeness, that ability to speak clearly in writing and convey thoughts and feelings with grace, good humor and wit? The HBO series "Deadwood" certainly has a lot of foul language in it, but it also contains some of the most wonderfully crafted dialogue of any show on TV. It's very true to 1850's culture.

...The commission, established by the College Board, drew attention with its first report in 2003. That outlined problems with how writing is taught in American schools and proposed remedies. The group's second report, last year, tried to drum up support for writing education by highlighting the value that business and industry leaders place on writing skills.

This year, the commission surveyed human resource directors who oversee nearly 2.7 million state government employees, and found writing skills even more important than in the private sector.

While two-thirds of companies surveyed in the 2004 report said writing was an important responsibility for workers, 100 percent of the 49 states responding to the anonymous survey said it was. More than 75 percent said they take writing skills into account when hiring.

But while 70 percent of state managers said large majorities of their professional employees had adequate skills, just one-third said clerical and support staff did. The report estimates the states spend $221 million annually on remedial writing training, sometimes sending workers to $400-per-employee classes.
The most disheartening mistakes I see usually begin on a person's resume. I can tell you in no uncertain terms, that if your resume has misspellings, bad sentence structure, poor choice of words, etc. It will most definitely end up in my circular file. I always ask for a writing sample from our clerical and support staff applicants nowadays, and many times, people seem surprised to be asked for one.

Given the importance of Email in basic, day to day communication in the corporate office environment, if you can't write well, your career will be severely limited.
posted by Broadsheet @ 8:13 PM  
10 Editorial Opinions:
  • At July 05, 2005, Blogger Maktaaq said…

    As a former junior high English class teaching aide, I have to say that while some of the teachers are to blame - the ones who've given up and have become bitter - everyone else is just as much to blame.

    We just don't take enough pride in writing out a decent sentence; rather, we are ashamed at being too eloquent.

    I call it the Homer Simpsonization of America (and Canada, of course).

  • At July 06, 2005, Blogger Broadsheet said…

    maktaaq: You, the speaker of what, at least 5 languages? And damn hard languages at that. You should be able to comment on this subject from a very qualified POV. It is the Homer Simsonization of America, as you say. (And also the "Sponge Bobinization".) It's not lack of pride. It's lack of READING for goodness sake. Lack of example ("People Magazine" as opposed to "Life", and "Time Magazine".) Lack of books when DVDs and gaming are more immediate.

    I agree with you. I find myself holding off on writing things in casual conversation that might appear too "flowery" or "erudite" at the risk of being judged too "stiff" for blogging, when the truth is, we hide behind a blog for the very reason that we can "be" someone else. Communicate better, express ourselves better... For a while, anyway.

  • At July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hooray!! WE got the Olympics and the French DIDN'T!!!

    There, that clear enough for you?


  • At July 06, 2005, Blogger jwer said…

    Personally, I think the problem is that, in America, the main qualifications for being successful are one or more of the following:

    1. be too stupid to know that you're an idiot
    2. be rich

    The people that they are asking "how important are good communication skills" are doubtless the very managers who are mocked daily on thousands of careless blogs; in short, they don't know how to communicate EITHER, and are by and large the biggest perpetrators of "irregardless" and all the other faux smart words.

    There are two different problems here; excessively informal and unprofessional speech, and ignorant MBA memes like "low hanging fruit" and using ornate words when they are unnecessary, like "utilize" for "use".

    Frankly, I prefer the former. At least you can correct it easily.

  • At July 06, 2005, Blogger AnonymousCoworker said…

    This subject is one I've been harping about for ages.

    1) Teaching in the US is currently focused on reading comprehension rather than phonetics. Thusly, the kids learn how to read, but they don't learn how to decode words and create better sentences.

    2) Reading does not help when the subject is dumbed down. The Baltimore Sun is written at about a 4th grade level. The DaVinci code was written at about a 4th grade level. The Washington Post is at about an 8th grade level.

    3) Reading is dumbed down because it ups circulation. Most business professionals (aged 24 to 60) can only read proficiently at a 7th grade level. Further, they will only choose to read material at a 5th grade level or lower.

    The problem is that we stopped teaching kids the basics about making words and opted instead to teach kids to read. The idea being that if they can read everything else will follow. This is clearly not the case.

    Further, more time is devoted in the classroom to math and science than to reading, history, and art. We're only developing one side of the brain.

    No wonder no one can read or write anymore.

  • At July 08, 2005, Blogger Pink Lemonade Diva said…

    A girlfriend's father is an English professor and he can't believe how, as email has proliferated in the curriculum, all respect for grammar has deteriorated. Must be so disheartening.

  • At July 08, 2005, Anonymous Erin said…

    As a scientist (who writes up results as [hopefully] intelligible research articles) and a manager who has to deal with college (and post college) technicians, I've given up asking technicians to write reports for me at the end of the field season because most can't write their way out of a paper bag. It's become too time consuming and irritating to try to make sense of their "writing". On top of that I find my self correcting my educated mother (good versus well) and my husband who is inundated at work (firefighter) with poor grammar (where'd you get your truck at?). Well, Linda, your post struck a nerve, certainly a pet peeve of mine. I'm sending this in horror that I've made a typo or grammatical mistake....eeek. Have you seen "Bob's quick guide to the apostrophe, you idiots" at I hope the site is still up, it's a scream.

  • At July 08, 2005, Blogger Robert said…

    I can tell you in no uncertain terms, that if your resume has misspellings, bad sentence structure, poor choice of words, etc. It will most definitely end up in my circular file.

    Did you really intend to write two sentences there? :)

  • At July 08, 2005, Blogger jwer said…

    Robert: yes, she did, because the period after "etc" signifies that it's an abbreviation of "et cetera", as the one in this single sentence does:

    Mr. Brown went to the store.

    The British use periods in abbreviations a bit more entertainingly; a period indicates that the word is abbreviated somewhere in the middle "etc." whereas a word like "Mister" is abbreviated as "Mr" because it's actually a contraction: "M'r".

    And yes, I am a geek, why do you ask?

    PS: she probably didn't really mean the comma after "terms" though...

  • At July 10, 2005, Blogger Broadsheet said…

    Campbell: Well done! And such a bright spot in an otherwise tragic week. Good to hear from you in person sweetie. Thanks for calling, I was worried about you.

    jwer: It may be too simplistic to reduce it to just 2 reasons. I think in many instances it boils down to sheer laziness instead of taking the time to find the right word or the right phrase to make yourself understood clearly and with some amount of eloquence. Meh.

    ACW: You raise some interesting points regarding education that I hadn't considered. You're right about the focus on comprehension as opposed to grammar and phonetics, but then I see my nieces and nephews devouring and enjoying books at a pace that rivals mine as a kid - and it gives me some hope for the future.

    PLD: I really, really do think the advent of email and text messaging as less formal means of communication are as much to blame as the corresponding decline in teaching methods and lack of emphasis on writing in current curriculums.

    Erin: Hi! That's a great site! I hadn't seen it. I would like to recommend to anyone who hasn't read it, my favorite book of last year: "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves". It's a scream, and a great example of humorous misunderstandings through bad grammar.

    Robert and Jwer: Yes. Like he said. And jwer? Again, meh.

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