The Written Word

By Bob Hall

An op-ed piece in this Sunday’s paper caught my eye with the headline: “Writing: more important than ever” Since I’ve blathered on about lousy writing over the years, I had to read the article. Pointing out that documents written centuries ago still influence our lives (the Bible, the Quran, the Constitution, etc.), the authors noted that technology is spurring another writing revolution with an estimated 30 billion emails and 50 million tweets a day.

“Just because writing has become more important than ever does not mean it has become better,” said the authors, one a former university president and one a vice president of the College Board.

According to various surveys, less than a quarter of high school seniors read at grade level and a third of state and local government employees don’t possess adequate writing skills. One report estimates that American businesses spend more than $3 billion a year to train employees to be better writers.

I take a certain perverse delight in marking writing errors in our daily newspapers. If these writing professionals can’t get it right, what hope is there for the non-professionals? I also often have noted that spell-check is the tool of the devil when substituted for good writing skills.

The authors of the op-ed piece champion a national discussion on “the importance of literacy for new immigrants and second language learners, the importance of writing for the advancement in employment, the need for an explosion in the use of the latest technology in schools, and creative ways to enhance classroom teaching in literacy and writing.”

For an industry that deals in the written word – whether printed or sent electronically – the dearth of good writing skills among so many potential and current employees and customers should be of concern. I disagree with Marshall McLuhan. The medium is not the message, the message is the message and it should be well written.