What Happened to Good Writing Skills?

Have you noticed how almost all job postings will say, “Must have excellent verbal and written communication skills?” Have you wondered why they even list this at all? Is there a way that you can get a “leg up” on other candidates by being successful in these skills today?

The answer is most certainly, “Yes!”, particularly in the area of written communication skills. As I read material produced today, I find frequent spelling and grammar errors in newspaper articles and in technical documentation, as well as grammar errors in formal correspondence and even LinkedIn postings. I believe there are a few causes for this. In today’s world there is a focus on disseminating information quickly possibly resulting in errors in grammar, spelling or facts. In the electronic world, it is almost too easy to go back and update to correct (although many people do not). Another reason is that the writer may be a non-native speaker/writer and is writing in a language that is not his/her primary language. I find this most common with technical writing, such as documentation or user’s manuals. Another reason is that people overly depend upon spell-check and auto-correct tools, which are happy when a word is spelled correctly even if it is the wrong word for the sentence. Finally, I believe that the lax and informal nature of social media encourages this as acceptable “publishable” content so we become used to and immune to poor spelling and grammar.

The results of poor communication are unintended effects. First, it can create a lack of trust, value or truthfulness not only in writing but in other areas. There is an unspoken feeling by the reader that if the writer uses bad grammar and spelling, what else may the writer be skimping on? Are they trustworthy? Do they pay attention to details? If you are trying to obtain a job, this could well mean the difference between getting an interview and not getting one. Lastly, poor spelling and grammar can result in the poor communication of ideas. For example, in the case of documentation, not being clear, concise and using the right words may mean that the wrong impression or the wrong idea is perceived by the reader, making that documentation useless.

Now let’s look at how to improve written communication skills and become the person to whom people come to for documentation and whose documentation people want to read. First, proof-read your work output. Get a second pair of eyes in the form of a co-worker, your significant other, or a trusted friend to look it over and mark it up to find those things you miss from being too familiar with the work. For example, my wife reviewed the final draft of this posting to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. Next, if possible, don’t assign non-native speakers to write materials unless they have mastered that second language. Lastly, practice, practice, practice. When you write a comment to a post, proofread it before hitting the “post” button. Do this even with social media and informal social communication. Don’t depend only on the spell-check feature, but check the wording yourself – reading it out loud to yourself if necessary. Look for missing words.

In the end, your skills will improve with practice. Look for those opportunities to practice (such as writing a blog), and keep trying. With time, you’ll be able to breeze through the job requirement of “having excellent written communication skills” and focus on the other areas of a job listing.

Posted in Professional.