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A Dangerous Deficiency

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An Essential Success Skill Is Being Lost

I’m referring to writing. In a recent article on prosperity conscious principles, I talked about my belief that the best writing comes when the writer is able to speak directly into the keyboard as if he or she were having a conversation with the reader. I was assuming, however, that I was talking to readers who were literate, and unfortunately we are turning into a nation of functional illiterates–people who cannot communicate effectively–and it is having its impact in the marketplace.

In Moneylove, I wrote that one of the first and most important steps on achieving more prosperity in your life is to have “A Clear Vision of What You Want.” If I were writing that today, I would have to put in the add-on, “…Plus The Ability to Communicate Your Vision to Others.”

My belief is that poor writing skills are traced back to a poor education system and the evolution of technology. When a large amount of our written communication is texted and mostly shorthand, we lose the mastery of the English language we used to take for granted. The most recent study by the Department of Education showed that among 8th and 12th graders, only 24% were proficient in writing.

In survey after survey, employers complain about the inability of job applicants to write and speak clearly and effectively. In a recent survey of over 300 employers for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 80% said colleges should focus more on teaching written and oral communication.

Garry Cosnett, who’s in charge of global equity communications for T. Rowe Price, is now mostly working to improve employees’ writing skills. He says that even top graduates from the best business schools are often writing-challenged, “It’s amazing, the frequent disconnect.” he says, “These are people who all did the very best at the best schools, probably since pre-school, but they really have not developed their writing skills to the degree that they would have to to succeed in this organization.”

We have to get back to some basics. And, yes, it is important to know when to use “it’s” and “its.” As well as the difference between “their,” they’re,” and “there.” I mention these because I am often amazed at how often otherwise brilliant people don’t seem to have a clue about the simple rules governing this usage.

I am often praised on the clarity, pleasing rhythm, and conversational style of my writing. I owe a lot of this to one of my heroes, whom my father introduced me to while I was still in high school. He is the late Rudolf Flesch, author of the iconic Why Johnny Can’t Read, and many books on plain speaking and plain writing. A good book to use to improve your own skills in this area is his, The Art of Readable Writing.

While it is true that the developments of the Internet, texting, and social media have contributed to the problem, we do get a good trade-off (if we are willing to use it). We now have access to thousands of websites that teach good writing skills. Just search for the correct way to use “its,” and “it’s,” and you will be guided to many simple instructions on exactly how to tell the difference.

You owe it to yourself to become more functionally literate–and you also owe it to your employers, clients, customers, and friends.

Jerry

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