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"The Importance of Writing from a Business Perspective"

--Lauren Weisberg Kaufman

Writing, like speaking, is a fundamental form of communication. As an employer, I form

opinions about the people I interview and employ based on their written communications.
Through the years, I have been surprised and sometimes dismayed about the quality of
writing I have seen. I must not be alone in this sentiment, as I have watched the number
of writing courses for college freshman proliferate in the nations top universities as well
as in our local community colleges. Writing is a fundamental skill that must be taught to
all young people and re-taught to adults who have not mastered essential writing skills.
Their future job opportunities and career advancement will depend upon it. A strong
economy with business growth and job development needs well-educated employees, and
one of the components of a good education is the mastery of strong writing and
communication skills.

I have found in the years since I left college that the type of writing used in the workplace
differs significantly from writing expected and rewarded in academia. As a student, I
wrote long essays full of ideas that had to be supported by research, with ample footnotes
and strong documentation. In business, simple, direct writing is valued, as a primary role
is to communicate to ones superiors in as concise a manner as possible. Communicating
to customers and co-workers is critically important, but often it is necessary to convey the
essential information in as few words as possible, rather than through elaboration. This,
of course, depends upon the career field and type of job one does, but I would suggest
that the typical liberal arts graduate will most likely have to change writing styles, once
out of school.

KISS or keep it simple stupid is an essential survival skill in business but not the type
of writing that is valued in most institutions of higher education. This could be a problem
for most newly minted graduates, but I believe that the inherent conflict can be addressed,
if both high school and college English faculty remind students that a clear writing style
is valued, proof-reading is essential and grammar still counts. Telling students to
remember the writing style and length they used in applying to college would be a helpful
tip upon graduation, when ones workday consists of writing memos rather than essays.
Poor grammar, spelling mistakes and incoherent, poorly worded memos, letters or articles
will definitely be noticed in job interviews and on the job, hindering ones opportunities
for advancement or even continued employment.

According to a recent report, Writing: A Ticket to WorkOr a Ticket Out, Survey of

Business Leaders", the ability to write opens doors to professional employment. The
report was prepared by the National Commission on Writing for Americas Families,
Schools and Colleges, which surveyed 120 human resource professionals affiliated with
the national Business Roundtable. The BRT is an association of chief executive officers
from major U.S. Corporations. According to the report which was released in summer,
Half of responding companies said they take writing into consideration when
hiring professional employees and making promotion decisions
Two-thirds of salaried employees in large U.S. companies have some writing
Eighty percent or more of the companies in the services and the finance,
insurance and real estate sectorscompanies with great employment growth
potentialassess writing during hiring
More than 40% of responding firms offer or require training for salaried
employees with writing deficiencies
Among hourly employees, expectations were not as high, but it is estimated
that between one-fifth and one-third of employees in fast growing service
sectors have some writing responsibilities
Based on survey responses, the Commission estimated that remedying deficiencies in
writing costs American corporations as much as $3.1 billion annually. Although schools
and colleges are emphasizing writing more today, and tests have been developed at the
state and national level to assess writing skills, this high cost to remediate for writing
deficiencies would not be necessary if schools and colleges prepared young people more
effectively as writers.

Modern technology, which provides unintended consequences along with it miraculous

advances, may not be helping the situation. The use of e-mail in business and industry is
ubiquitous today, allowing for unprecedented global communication. Instant Messaging
ones friends is a communication medium used by most young people today. I am surely
the dinosaur, as I carefully correct spelling and grammar in my e-mails before I send
them out. I just cant help myself and find I do this in my personal as well as my
professional life. Some habits are too hard to break. But my own college and high school
age children write messages that only their friends can understand. I try to phonetically
sound them out, and can get it about half the time, when I can actually stand at the
computer long enough to read something before they close me out. But will they be able
to break this habit of flying fingers, when spelling and grammar actually do count in
college and in the workplace? Spell check can only take you so far. It is important to
know when something is just not write that the computer may not pick up. And spell
check only plays a role when students are writing papers, not communicating every day
with their friends. I think young people need to be reminded over and over again that
writing skills are critical to their future careers and that they have to carefully review
what they have written and probably edit it numerous times before sending e-mails or
letters. Not exactly a skill they are learning in their free time

I am clearly not alone in my concern that writing skills are not at the level they need to
be. As we move increasingly towards a knowledge-based economy which values
brainpower over brawn, strong writing skills are more critical than ever to future success.
According to Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which founded the
Commission, writing is a fundamental professional skill. Most of the new jobs in the
years ahead will emphasize writing. If students want professional work in service firms,
in banking, finance, insurance and real estate, they must know how to communicate on
paper clearly and concisely. The Commission survey also found that advanced
technology in the workplace plays a significant role. Joseph M. Tucci, president and
CEO of EMC Corporation and chair of the Business Roundtables Education and
Workforce Task Force stated that the need to write clearly and quickly has never been
more important than in todays highly competitive, technology-driven global economy.

It is not the case that people employed in office settings are the only ones who need
strong writing skills. A number of survey respondents noted that all employees must have
writing skills. Manufacturing documentation, technical manuals and operating
instructions, hazardous waste materials, lab safety, reporting problems all have to be
crystal clear, written in language that a variety of individuals can understand.

The situation reflected in this national report, mirrors what we see in Connecticut. In my
21 years here at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, our members, in
survey after survey, in company visits and phone calls have most frequently complained
about math skills and writing skills. I continue to say to them, however, dont just sit
back and complain, get involved, speak up and tell your local schools and colleges what
you need, where you see strengths and weaknesses and what your expectations are for
their graduates. This communication is critical and must be on going, as business
conditions and needs change rapidly in this global economy. Some things do endure,
however, and that is the need for strong, articulate writers, who communicate effectively.

**Information from the National Commission on Writingis excerpted from the

November, 2004 issue of the CBIA News.