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The Problem of Lacking Effective Written Communication Skills

For years, I have heard many colleagues expressing their concerns of students’ poor written communication skills. Indeed, lack of writing proficiency does not seem to be an isolated problem for one particular academic program or college.

According to Dianna Middleton’s report on Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Corporate America is complaining that business-school graduates could be “data-savvy” but may not be able to communication effectively. Some writing deficiency examples include: using complicated words over simple ones, rarely getting to the point, failing to adapt the writing for multiple audiences, and writing incomplete sentences. As a result, consulting firms like Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. do not allow new hires from working on any written proposal independently until they are ready.

Many business schools are making efforts to help students improve their writing skills. The Wharton school at University of Pennsylvania is planning to double the communication coursework to 12 classes starting in 2012. University of Rochester created two writing coaches positions. Northeastern University requires that student papers be graded by both professor and writing coach.

Students, on the other hand, do not seem to pay enough attention to this problem. Cornell University, for example, offers an elective writing class and an elective oral communication class in its executive M.B.A. program but found inadequate interest of signing up for the writing class.

It may seem that students themselves have not noticed how serious this problem is. Why will students struggle in writing? What can high schools, universities, and Corporate America do to improve students’ writing proficiency? In the world of “constant digital communication,” will text-messaging and tweeting replace formal written communications for good? What are your thoughts?

References:
Middleton, D. (2011, March 3). Students struggle for words: Business schools put more emphasis on writing amid employer complaints. The Wall Street Journal, B8. Also available online via http://on.wsj.com/f1wExT  
Picture was downloaded from http://mediarelations09.blogspot.com/  

Comments

  1. The following discussion is contributed by a friend of mine. He is a lawyer in Syracuse, NY.

    "Good writing is a critical element of professionalism. It is important for creating impressive sales proposals, professional letters, and even simple emails.

    It is easy to spot the difference between good writi...ng and bad writing. In my career, law, writing is definitely the single most important skill. However, I am contantly amazed to see so many lawyers produce poor-quality written arguments that lack organization and clarity. Few lawyers actively try to improve their writing skills. Good writing is a way to gain a professional advantage over competitors. I have seen many strong arguments lose in court because the attorney was not able to communicate the argument effectively to the judge.

    I think there are three major pieces to improving writing skills:

    First, a good writing class is very important. I don't think anyone is "born" a good writer. Good writing must be taught. A valuable writing class will you how to prepare strong introductions, strong topic sentences, and proper organization of ideas.

    Second, it is equally important to learn how to customize your writing to the proper audience. For persuasive writing, the most critical skill is knowing how to express your position in a way that has the maxium impact on the reader. For informative writing, the most critical skill is the ability to "step back" from your writing and pretend you don't know much about your topic. If you are an expert in the subject you are writing about, you must be able to edit you paper critically and imagine whether your paper will be clear, understandable, and informative to someone who doesn't know as much about the topic as you do.

    The third important thing is PRACTICE! Like any other skill, writing improves with experience. That must happen outside the classroom. As long as you ALWAYS edit your own writing carefully and critically, and you ALWAYS looks for ways to make you own writing more clear and understandable, you writing skill will always keep improving over time."

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