Writing good is a big deal these days. A bigger deal then math, according to my friends and I, but I’m not hear to represent there views. But, I thank it’s important to know the English language and all it’s rules.
Did you catch all the errors in that first paragraph? The spell-check on my laptop didn’t.
The College Board – those friendly scholars who bring us the SATs and other fun tests – recently released the results of a survey by its National Commission on Writing. The news is not good. A majority of U.S. employers say about one-third of workers do not meet the writing requirements of their positions. “Businesses are really crying out,” College Board President Gaston Caperton told the Associated Press. “They need to have people who write better.”
The employers who say people need to write better are in some surprising industries: mining; construction; manufacturing; transportation and utilities; services; and finance, insurance and real estate. It seems companies want everyone to be able to communicate effectively, not just the executives, lawyers and public relations people.
This might come as a surprise not only to people in the working world, but also to people who are preparing to enter it. Students who believe the informal shorthand of e-mail and instant messages is acceptable in corporate America might be in for a shock when they lose the jobs of their dreams because of misspelled words on their resumés. I recently read a self-promotion posted by a recent graduate on a job-seekers discussion board for the public relations industry. The misspelled words, poor sentence construction and grammatical errors were enough to make E.B. White turn over in his grave. It’s bad enough that the job seeker embarrassed herself in front of thousands of professional peers (she even proudly announced the college from which she graduated). I only hope no one committed the greater sin of actually hiring her.
I have a friend who recently left the practice of business communication so he could teach it to the next generation of professionals. In just a few weeks in the classroom he has experienced something akin to culture shock. “It is disturbing how little these students know about the English language and its proper usage,” he lamented recently.
A lot of people ask why it’s important to use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation in their jobs. I have two answers:
Standards are necessary for society to function. Imagine if a construction company decided it was no longer important to follow standards of measurement. One foot might be 13 inches or 12 inches. Who cares? Just as chaos would reign in that scenario, the same would be true if we didn’t follow standards of language. Clear communication would be impossible.
Credibility is at stake. I would not trust a computer programmer who doesn’t know code, a chef who doesn’t know how to measure ingredients, or a doctor who doesn’t know the human anatomy. Just as these people must know how to use the tools of their trade, so anyone who uses English to communicate must know how to use it correctly.
Fixing the problem that the College Board survey exposes is not easy. Teachers will have to stop misspelling words on the communications they send home to parents. (Yes, I’m the parent who keeps sending those notes back with proofreading marks all over them.) Students will have to take Language Arts more seriously, like it’s a ticket to a decent job. Most difficult of all, employers will have to insist that the people who work for them – no matter what their jobs or salaries – begin using correct grammar, learn how to write well and spell words correctly. Annual bonuses should depend upon it.
By the way, my laptop’s spell check caught only one out of at least seven mistakes in the first paragraph. “It’s” should be “its.” (I believe the second sentence is a fragment, which would be an eighth error, although the laptop doesn’t think so.)