By: Michael Record, PhD is the Associate Vice Chancellor of the Writing Program at Keiser University
At the beginning of February 2014, a blogger for NBC News published a post called “Why Johnny Can’t Write, and Why Employers Are Mad.” The post was widely shared, and it expressed a frustration shared by the corporate world and educational institutions alike. America’s education system consistently drops the ball on teaching people to write. Possible answers include the emergence of technologies that facilitate communications at a rapid pace but in a style far from Standard English language usage. Another possible source of trouble involves some trends at work in the world of K-12 education, including an emphasis on personal, expressive writing at the expense of more research-based expository writing, and professional development for teachers that de-emphasized grammar—a message many educators took to mean, “don’t teach grammar.” (For a fascinating exploration of these K-12 trends, look for Peg Tyre’s “The Writing Revolution” from the September, 2012 Atlantic.) The consensus among those in a position to know is clear: American education is missing the mark when it comes to writing. This is why Keiser University chose writing as the topic of a special quality focus on enhancing our teaching and learning in the area of writing.
Chances are, though, if you’re reading this as a member of the Keiser University Alumni Association, you don’t care very much about the societal trends that led to the current situation; you want to know what to you have to do to maximize your employability in a job market that hasn’t entirely bounced back from a period of significant recession. With that in mind, here are some things anyone can do to avoid being perceived as a poor communicator.
Proofread! A great majority of the embarrassment that comes to most people as a result of their writing has nothing to do with their actual communication skills, but instead from a lack of understanding that no one writes something the way it is supposed to be written on his or her first attempt. People who have a weak command over language but are willing to edit themselves closely end up with better written products than people with strong language skills who dash off their first draft to the message recipient.
Monitor yourself. Once we learn a skill, we rarely let it lapse. We do, however, make the same few mistakes over and over indefinitely until we take active steps to correct them. Learn the errors you’re prone to making. My most frequent error in writing, for example, is leaving words of sentences. (Did you catch that?) Others end sentences before completing a thought with a subject and a verb, while others mix up their pronouns. Get to know the errors you make frequently and then watch yourself as you’re writing.
Buy a handbook. Maybe you still have a copy of Rules of Thumb from your days as a Keiser undergraduate. If not, bookstore shelves all over the country are filled with writer’s guides and handbooks. Get yourself one you’re comfortable with and consult it in those situations when you’re not sure which word to use, where that comma goes, or what to capitalize.
Preview before you publish. Recruit a friend to read a written message before you send it to your boss or other readers. Do the same for him or her when needed. Neither of you need to be grammar experts to tell whether a written message makes sense or not.
I will publish more thoughts in issues to follow on what you can do to set yourself apart from your peers as someone who communicates effectively in writing.
Michael Record, PhD
Associate Vice Chancellor of the Writing Program