As I hung up the phone I thought, “Wow, that wasn’t the
impression I had of her from reading her e-mail message.”
On the phone she seemed confident, articulate, and
decisive. She impressed me as someone who was friendly but had
no time to waste, the kind of high-powered person who knows how
to get things done.
But her writing was a different story.
Her e-mail message seemed awkward and halting. Her
information was presented as a single block of text rather than
organized into coherent paragraphs. Her sentence structure was
basic and monotonous rather than varied and emphatic. Although
there were no misspelled words, no errors in grammar or
punctuation, her writing was . . . well, ordinary. It didn’t
give me the assurance I feel when I’m in the presence of someone
who exudes competence.
Am I describing someone you know?
Too often, people fail to distinguish themselves by
their writing skills. As reported by the Associated Press, “A
majority of U.S. employers say about one-third of workers do not
meet the writing requirements of their positions, according to a
survey by the College Board’s National Commission on Writing.”
If one out of three workers fails to meet minimum
standards, how many are exceptionally strong? One out of 20? One
out of 100?
What about you? Are you as effective in writing as you
are in speaking? If not, what do you intend to do about it?
As reported by the AP’s Madlen Read (gotta love that
last name), “The College Board . . . says the responsibility
lies with grade schools and universities – but training
represents another potential solution.”
You can’t go back and re-do your past, but you can do
something now. As Read quotes New School University’s President
Bob Kerrey as saying, “You’re never too old to learn.” Writing,
he said, “is a skill that is acquirable.”
I agree. And if you’re reading this column, so do you.
You know it’s unrealistic to think you can devote four
hours a week to improving your writing, but you also know care
and attention make all the difference. If you form three simple
habits, your writing will improve, both in the short term and
over a lifetime:
■Use a style guide
or reference book.
Writing and language are tricky. Almost any problem you might
encounter has been encountered by others. Why not learn from
their advice? You’ll find my recommendations for helpful
reference guides, both hard copy and online, on my Web page at
■Look; don’t guess.
No matter how rushed you are, take a few moments to look up a
rule. If you spend your life being too busy to learn or improve,
guess what? You won’t learn or improve.
■Take pride in your
Your writing expresses who you are, your professional standards,
your competence, your view of the world. Learning to do it well
is a matter of pride. It’s worth the time and effort.