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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

America's Writing Skills

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 17, 2005

America's writing skills are being discussed in relation to our educational system, and in preparation for a job. Various studies have shown that a person's ability to write and communicate clearly relate to that person's success with the job market.

There is an assumption that with advanced technology in the job marketplace, writing and communication skills are less important than in years past. Most jobs have a need for the employee to communicate effectively on paper and the computer screen.

Thirty-five years ago, my high school education included the standard Grammar and Composition Classes, and I chose to add Creative Writing to the mix. These are skills that are developed over time, neither quickly nor easily. Practice, practice, and more practice are the only way to become an effective communicator on paper or online. And there lies the problem. The largest single written communication that our society does today is e-mail, and what an example that can be!

Writing e-mail correspondence, like letter writing, is subject to misinterpretation since there is no tone or body language to accompany the written language. Add to that the lack of concern for the format of e-mail, and it is no wonder that America's writing skills are diminishing.

I subscribe to a trains discussion group on the Internet, and it has become a good barometer of America's writing skills. One young participant in the online discussions has extremely poor spelling and writing skills to the point that his postings are nearly impossible to read.Others gently commented, suggesting that he pass his postings through a spell check. This brought angry responses from several people who suggested that spelling and writing are not as important today.

I beg to differ. Writing (and spelling) skills are likely more important today. With so much written communication taking place in e-mail, the ability to effectively write will make the difference with employment. I found some e-mail tips that I would like to share. Make the subject line of your e-mail clear, concise, and neutral so the reading will "want" to open your e-mail.

Start with a greeting, no one wants to jump right into reading a message without at least a hello. Don't use an abbreviation; that assumes that potential readers have the same knowledge level as you, and they aren't likely to ask if they don't know. It is unnecessary to copy others with "cyber-gossip," only copy people directly involved in the communication.

Sloppy grammar, poor spelling, and bad punctuation only reflect on the author. It brings into question whether the sender is really knowledgeable enough to speak on a topic. NEVER TYPE IN CAPITAL LETTERS, in e-mail that is interpreted as "shouting" at someone. It does not emphasize the point, it becomes a negative tone.

And what do you want me to do, are you expecting an answer? I read an e-mail and an unsure, "why are you telling me this?"At the library, we see the problem of communication skills when someone e-mails the library an information request, and the staff doesn't have a clue what the person wants. And I wouldn't mention all of this without noting that another great way to improve writing and communication skills is --- to read.