Writing for a better future

In this age of technology, where communication is expected to be instant, sensible and mature writing is hard to come by. The Millennial generation, with its obsession with 140 character tweets, has made good writing a thing of the past.A telling indicator of this is the volume of text messages exceeding voice calls in the US and globally, since 2009. The form of text messaging, where words are shortened, or letters are replaced by symbols for speed, without proper punctuation or capitalization, when used excessively, sounds almost insane. Yet young people use it anyway, and it has, over time, reduced writing to a new coarseness that has professional writers tearing their hair out.Yet, according Human Resources people in organizations, Millennials believe they are “frequent and strong writers” because they send out hundreds of texts and tweets every day.

Former CEO of Dictionary.com, Shravan Goli, said, “I think it makes sense for these social conversations to be lightweight or light-hearted in terms of the syntax. But ultimately, in the world of business and in the world they will live in, in terms of their jobs and professional lives, students will need good, solid reading and writing skills. I’m a little worried about where we are in America with literacy levels dropping. Are these [electronic devices] helping us, or making it worse? I think they may be going the other way and making it worse.”

It is quite apparent, therefore, that what constitutes “good writing” means different things to different generations. In workplaces, most jobs require analytical skills and strategic thinking, apart from lucid communications skills, and employers eagerly hire young graduates fresh out of college, believing they would lead the way in getting the organization onto a higher plateau of communication.  But, more often than not, employers are bitterly disappointed, even shocked, by poor writing skills, paving the way for writing and communications skills becoming a “must-have” skill for employment.

Leading to this challenge in the workplace, is the aggravating situation of substandard writing that professors in colleges encounter, which they try so hard to change, with little result. Joseph Teller, an English professor at California’s College of the Sequoias, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, recently, “My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it. In 10 years of teaching writing, I have experimented with different assignments, activities, readings, approaches to commenting on student work — you name it — all to help students write coherent prose that someone would actually want to read. And as anyone who keeps up with trends in higher education knows, such efforts largely fail.”College teachers know, from personal experience, that writing a coherent sentence in beyond the capability of an average undergraduate. Habitually sloppy writers who do not care about grammar or punctuation, most college students hardly revise first drafts. As Professor Teller said, despite the different strategies he used to persuade students to revise their first drafts, “weak drafts remain weak; stronger drafts get slightly stronger, but not by much.” It is, then, no wonder, that in the face of challenges in producing quality writing, students turn to an essay writer to rescue them.

Sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa who recently conducted a study of over 2000 students at four-year colleges in the US, focused on reading and writing capabilities of college students.  Following the results of the study, these sociologists raised pertinent issues regarding the quality of undergraduate learning.  In their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the two authors write, “If students are not being asked to read and write on a regular basis in their course work, it is hard to imagine how they will improve their capacity to master performance tasks that involve critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.”

Attorney-at-Law, Ms Lindsey Gustafson speaks of another study done in 2011, which found that college-aged students who were in the habit of texting, were less able to retain new vocabulary, than students frequently exposed to books and magazines. Those who consistently read a lot as a habit, had an extensive vocabulary, with knowledge of nuanced words, and were flexible in language use.

Focusing on writing, journalist Don Fry sees two types of writers – planners and plungers. He says that in earlier times, writers were mainly planners. But teachers today find that the majority of their students are plungers – starting to write before they even know what to write, shortchanging on research and organization of the writing process. A high school teacher of journalism from Pennsylvania said, “They need to learn that the writing process is not linear.” In fact, the correct approach to writing includes pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and sharing, with components of that process repeated often.

As Ernest Hemingway said, there is no left and right in writing. There is only good and bad writing.