Perhaps, like me, you also disliked writing courses?
Red marks filling the paper, thesis lacking sufficient clarity, wordiness wordiness wordiness. Subsequently, many of us have become experts at adapting and masking our poor writing. We excel at spreadsheets and then use our numeric contribution as an excuse for someone else to do the writing. Or perhaps we avoid jobs that require more than a minimum of writing. If we have a few marketing skills, we might announce our leadership wisdom by sharing the pride we have taken in hiring someone better than ourselves–a writer.
But at the end of the day, good writing matters. I have always believed that fuzzy writing reflects fuzzy thinking, and no client wants to pay you top dollar for fuzzy thinking. I therefore took great pleasure in two recent articles that remind us just how important our writing can be.
- The FT asked, Does It Matter That Students Cannot Write? The opening story recounts how a Dean admonished a Professor for requiring written assignments and giving feedback to help students improve. The story is both sad and common. The author then asks, for me, an even more provocative question. In an age where people and parents are seeking every possible advantage, why accept poor writing and avoid rising above the crowd?
- Perhaps more illustratively, the New York Times praises the readable and clean prose of The Talented Justice Kagan. “She is a master of the topic sentence (“A trip back in time begins to show why”) and the stylish dig (“wrong, wrong, and wrong again”). Yet what puts her in a class by herself is her combination of down-to-earth writing and the ingredients essential to influential opinions: conceptual insight, penetrating legal analysis and argumentative verve.”
I can only speak for myself when I admit that I must work on my writing every day. I did not take my secondary or university writing classes seriously and the price of that decision is to, in effect, spend the rest of my life improving. I would not wish this predicament on anyone.
And let’s be honest, other such essential life skills are ignored by universities and their students. I have had equally disappointing experiences where the educational powers that be have ask me to reduce in-class participation and spend less time teaching students to think on their feet and holding them accountable for what they say. I see this as an educational approach superbly suited for creating minions.
Regardless of whether we discuss writing, or thinking and communicating on our feet, professional communication skills impact our career, performance evaluation, what clients will pay us, and the overall quality of our thinking and problem solving.
We should all strive to be more like Justice Kagan and less like the business school dean described in the FT.