I've wondered what's up with today's employees when it comes to writing skills. Doesn't anyone know how to spell anymore? Whatever happened to punctuation and capitalization? I'd be hard pressed to find much nice to say about the educational system today based on some of the writing I've seen, but it would be disingenuous to the younger people to put out a belief that only the young seem illiterate.

bad writing

When I was a patient accounting director, I used to allow my employees to write their own letters to send out to patients. That is, until one day I got a look at one of the letters. Forget about them remembering anything as it pertains to formatting a letter, is it possible I had better teachers in my school or was it that I cared more?

I couldn't believe the poor sentence structure, let alone the choice of words used. If they were writing to their friends I wouldn't have cared so much. But when they're sending letters to your customers, the main message you want coming across is that you're a professional organization. No matter what the subject is, if the message being sent doesn't look correct your organization won't be taken seriously.

I also used to wonder why I never seemed to have enough qualified personnel to work in the cashiers area because most of the people who filed applications had almost no real math skills either. I know they still teach math in school, but I couldn't believe how many people seemed to have forgotten the basic addition and subtraction principles that most of us were taught in third grade.

One truth I came upon is that it's not only your front line employees with terrible writing skills. I've met many management level employees who didn't know how to put two words together, let alone write an entire letter.

Some of them have been blessed to have secretaries who studied the art and clean up all outgoing letters. But it's these examples that show it's not the intellect of the individuals which leads to their not understanding the basics of writing.

What are the reasons? What's going on?

I think there are four main reasons for bad writing.

The first is that many people tend to write how they speak, and most of us don't speak proper English most of the time.

The second is that I don't believe grammar is as integral a part of the school curriculum as it may have been in the past. I remember some years ago my niece showed me one of her class assignments, and I thought the grammar was terrible. When I asked her about it she said teachers didn't grade grammar, they graded whether the students understood the material or not.

The third is the proliferation of instant messaging and texting that has created a new way of writing, where more people use short little phrases and alpha-words (such as brb for "be right back") to communicate their thoughts quicker.

The fourth is that people either don't care to take the time to look at what they're writing or really don't have the time to review themselves before sending something out.

I'm not going to set myself up as being the perfect icon for how writing is supposed to look. I'm a product of my own time also, back in the days where we were taught that some words were pronounced exactly the same regardless of how they were spelled.

bad communication

Maybe it's still that way, but I've learned over the years that not all grammar rules are the same across the country. Being a military child, I learned different regional rules of grammar. I also had to deal with the curse of having to quickly learn what was acceptable where I was at the time. Confusion can reign when inundated with so many different styles and systems. However, that's my story; the overwhelming majority of people have gone to all the schools in the area they grew up in.

The business world of today has to deal with this issue as much as dealing with the issue of reading skills. If you own a factory it's not so much of a problem. However, if you're in a business office where your personnel are expected to communicate with the masses it becomes problematic.

It's an even bigger deal if you're promoting personnel to management positions, where they're expected to be able to teach and educate others. Many companies leave the writing of departmental procedure manuals to management level employees. If they don't know how to write well, the message will not get across. If they're writing incoherent memos who's going to understand the company policy? If they're sending these letters out to your customers, why wouldn't you expect those customers to wonder who they're dealing with?

Is it fair to give writing and literacy tests up front, either at the time of the job application or as part of the interview process? Not only is it appropriate, but it should be a criteria for certain jobs in every company. I can't think of one business in this country which couldn't benefit from at least one person who has good writing skills. If your business has one or 50,000 employees, at least one of them has to know how to write a sentence.

Are there answers in how to address this issue as it pertains to companies today? Not many, unfortunately. There's been talk that more large companies should invest their money into local school systems to not only teach job skills earlier but address some of the skills lacking in both writing and math. While there are some companies that actually participate in the process, the truth is the costs seem prohibitive in today's economy, not to mention that there are no guarantees for the company that those they help will end up working for them as opposed to their competitors.

Some companies have training programs for basic academic skills, but not many. Estimates range from 1 to 8% of all companies that have such programs. Most of those companies only allow employees they feel need the skills to do the job they're presently in properly to avail themselves of these programs. They ignore the facts that not only are there other employees throughout their company who might have higher aspirations and want to improve themselves, but also employees who may not be doing the same job tomorrow as they're doing today who may need these same skills.

I believe that every employee needs to constantly strive to be better. I believe that every employer needs to evaluate the needs of their employees and try to address them, especially if the skills missing are integral to the position.

Good communications are the key for companies to not only get their message across to their employees, but to their customers. Such communications will never be effective unless both sides of the employee-employer relationship realize that it benefits everyone to not only have the provisions for improving writing skills, but to have the desire to make the attempt to use the skills learned.