What Do You Mean College Grads Can’t Write?!

Several Students writing - grammar problemsMarch 4 is Grammar Day, a time to reflect on concerns business leaders and educators share about the diminishing communication skills of today’s youth.

Our College Graduates Can’t Write!” laments Bruce Nolop, former CFO of Pitney Bowes Inc. and E*Trade Financial Corp., in an article in The Wall Street Journal.

He — and others — blame it at least in part on the digital revolution.

Recent college graduates “frequently commit basic grammatical errors,” he claims. He theorizes that students spend more time playing video games and watching TV than they spend reading; their writing skills are eroded by texting and social media formats, habits reinforced by their peers; and English is not always their first language.

Business leaders acknowledge the costs of declining writing skills, whether in poorly composed emails or poorly expressed ideas that stymie innovation and productivity.

In the comments section of Nolop’s article, a reader observes:

It’s painful. Businesses are based on ideas. If these ideas cannot be adequately communicated, the idea does not get the support it needs to flourish. Poor communications skills can, and will, undermine corporate productivity.

Inadequate skill development apparent at college level

Assistant Professor of Psychology Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D., of Queensborough Community College in New York, writes in Psychology Today, “Why Can’t College Students Write Anymore?

I am about a decade in to my teaching career, but even within this fairly short span, I have noticed a startling decline in the quality of written work turned in by my students, regardless of which institution (community college, private, four-year school) the papers are coming from.

It’s not just that students aren’t demonstrating critical thinking skills in their writing; basic competencies like proper syntax, spelling, and even proper structure like paragraph indentation and how to cite sources are being done very poorly. Teachers have been reporting anecdotally that even compared to five years ago, many are seeing declines in vocabulary, grammar, writing, and analysis.

Shortcoming not limited to college level

A writer for the The Inquirer at Philly.com interviewed Philadelphia high school teacher Amy Tordone.

She, “like many teachers in a digital age, realizes that social media can sometimes have an adverse effect on a student’s ability to be grounded in grammar, style usage, and syntax. In short, social media can hamper her students’ ability to write effectively and become critical thinkers.”

Julie McGuire, who teaches at a Hong Kong primary school, reports in the South China Morning Post:

Conventional spelling and grammar these days is being eroded with shortcuts used in social networking. Although some children know the difference and can easily switch between the two, others can find this confusing and get into bad habits.

How is your business coping?

Observers from the office and the shop floor, to colleges, high schools and even elementary schools, recognize that writing proficiency is on the decline. How are businesses dealing with what apparently is a growing problem?

To those in talent acquisition:
How are your hiring decisions affected by an obvious deficit in an applicant’s writing skills?

To those in management:
Does writing competency play a role in your deciding whom to promote?

To those in training and development:
Does your company provide remedial courses or coaching in grammar or writing?

Understanding the fundamentals of grammar is a requisite skill for communicating effectively in every workplace. It appears that as a country, we’re not doing a good job of training either today’s or tomorrow’s workers.

How can we do better?

(Originally published on LinkedIn)

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)