Writing: A Ticket to Work … Or a Ticket Out

The National Commission on Writing issued a report titled, “Writing: A Ticket to Work … Or a Ticket Out: A Survey of Business Leaders”. The survey concluded that writing in today’s workplace is a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotion among salaried employees. In other words, writing is a ticket to professional opportunity, while poorly written job applications are a figurative kiss of death.

Estimates based on the survey reveal that employers spend billions annually to correct writing deficiencies. One executive stated, “All employees must have some writing ability … Manufacturing documentation, operating procedures, reporting problems, lab safety, waste-disposal operations – all have to be crystal clear.”

Half of all companies take writing into account when making promotion decisions. One succinct comment: “You can’t move up without writing skills.”

The Commission stated that writing is a basic building block for life, leisure, and employment. Individual opportunity in the United States depends on the ability to present one’s thoughts coherently, cogently, and persuasively on paper.

How important is writing in the workplace? Read what some of the executives said:

“Writing skills are fundamental in business. It’s increasingly important to be able to convey content in a tight, logical, direct manner, particularly in a fast-paced technological environment.”

“My view is that good writing is a sign of good thinking. Writing that is persuasive, logical, and orderly is impressive. Writing that’s not careful can be a sign of unclear thinking.”

“Business writing generally calls for clarity, brevity, accuracy, and an appropriate level of detail. “

A significant proportion of the respondents stated that one-third or fewer of their employees possess the writing skills they value. The respondents said the desirable writing skills are, in order of importance: 1) accuracy; 2) clarity; 3) spelling, punctuation, and grammar; and 4) conciseness.

The respondents expressed a fair degree of dissatisfaction with the writing of recent college graduates … and also with academic styles of writing, unsuited to workplace needs. Some of their comments were:

“The skills of new college graduates are deplorable – across the board: spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.”
“Recent graduates may be trained in academic writing, but we find that kind of writing too verbose and wandering.”

The implications of the study are:

1. Writing appears to be a “marker” attribute of high-skill, high-wage, professional work.
2. Opportunities for salaried employment are limited for employees unable to communicate clearly.
3. Writing consists of the ability to say things correctly, to say them well, and say them in a way that makes sense, i.e., grammar, rhetoric, and logic.

For more on the National Commission on Writing, and to download a copy of the full report, go to:<http://www.writingcommission.org>.