Where have all the writers gone? A couple of weeks ago, I posted about concerns aired in the British media concerning the quality (or lack thereof) of writing by British law students. Workforce Management has an article in its October, 2008 issue about the poor quality of writing among U.S. employees. The article refers to survey results from 2006 revealing that 81% of high level business leaders are dissatisfied with the writing of high school grads and 28% are dissatisfied with the writing of four-year college grads. Businesses have turned to outside help for assistance in shoring up the leaks: it is estimated that in 2004, employers spent up to $3.1 billion in training related to writing skills. The blame game on this side of the pond is eerily similar to the analysis put forth by the British commentators. Those interviewed for the Workforce Management article cite insufficient emphasis on writing skills in the education system and new methods of communication via technology that encourage abbreviated and rapid communication with little thought to construction, form and editing. The author, Charlotte Huff, cautions that poor writing translates into lost dollars. Huff cites the experiences of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, relating how the firm’s director of professional and organizational development hired outside trainers to conduct a series of in-house seminars. More than 10% of the firm’s staff attended.
Why should we care? Huff raises several important points. First, English is the language of international business and the failure to employ our advantage to is greatest effect is a waste of a valuable asset. Second, skilled writing minimizes the possibility of interpersonal misunderstandings, lost work time and threatened business deals. Third, poor writing wastes the time it takes to understand it, correct it and mitigate its fallout. Fourth, employees are turning towards email and other written forms and away from interpersonal meetings and even phone calls for conveying information. Thus, a person’s writing is fast becoming the most critical measure of that person’s worth and “know-how” available to clients and peers.
This article is well-taken. What is true for employees in general is true for lawyers in particular in an industry that is founded upon the written word: those who take the time to strengthen and sharpen their writing will definitely reap the rewards.