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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

R U Writin Good?

I believe I have officially ventured into "old fogey" territory.  I am about to criticize the younger generation and lament the degredation of the older ways of doing things.

First let me say that I am a bit of a technophile, and obviously am very comfortable with computers and the internet.  I was using computers, email, and Usenet newsgroups back in the '90s, and remember when the World Wide Web first started becoming well known.  Though not prolific, I do text and even occasionally tweet, so I'm familiar with current modes of communication and social media.  I just wanted to say all of this to set the record straight that I'm not a "prude" when it comes to our digital world, and have embraced our electronic communications.  I'm not so old-fashioned that I think that a "word processor" is a piece of paper and a pencil.

That being said, I think that the currently emerging generation has lost a lot of communication ability because of the prevalence of texting and Twitter.  I know articles have been written about changes in communication style and many people have given opinion pieces on this topic.  But it really hit me this week in an email I received.

As regular readers know, I'm normally happy to answer questions.  Frequently I receive requests from pre-college students doing reports for a class on a given profession where they have to ask details about the job to someone in that particular field.  Yesterday I received the following email, reproduced here exactly as it was written to me (copied and pasted)....

hello i am currently doing a project for my online honors class of animal behavior and zoology, i was wondering if u could answer my interview questions for my project i hope im not taking any of ur time but if u have the time i would really appreciate it thanks and if u do i also need ur name my online teacher requires the information not sure why

I very sincerely hope that this is not how this particular person normally communicates with professionals.  They trample over so many grammatical rules that it would make any English teacher have a seizure, and there is only a single punctuation mark.  Vocabulary is also lacking, using "u" for "you" and "ur" for "your".   They ask for my name, even though it's right on my blog and even in the email address they had to type!  And this is supposed to be an honors student?  When talking to friends, I don't care that people use texting abbreviations, as I've done so myself.  But it's one thing to do this in a casual setting and quite another do so in an official request to a professional.

Let me give a few words of advice to any young people reading this blog entry.  Ability to communicate is crucial to success in just about every field and career.  It's especially critical in a professional setting where you are dealing with highly educated and intelligent people.  The words that you use, both written and spoken, give people an impression of who you are and how you think.  If you use a lot of colloquialisms and slang in a professional communication, you will leave a bad impression and people may think that you're not as knowledgeable as you may be.  When writing and speaking it is very, very important to use proper terminology, grammar, and punctuation, and avoid shortcuts that you may use with friends and family.  Whether or not it's "fair", people are judged by their communication ability, and everyone from supervisors to laypeople will form opinions based on your language skills (or lack thereof).  Reading something like the email above makes me question the writer's intelligence and professionalism, and if this sort of language was used in any form of application I would immediately discard the person from any consideration of working with me.

I am not trying to single out this particular person, which is why I didn't use their name and have even avoided identifying their gender.  Rather this is a chastisement of their ability to communicate well, and a warning to quickly improve on this if they want to be taken seriously by any professional in any field.  Even if you're not going to be a professional writer, you will be much more successful if you have a command of the rules of language and how to apply them.


  1. Well I certainly appreciate this post! I am horrified by the lack of thought many young people (and even some old enough to "know better") put in to their written communication these days. Grammar seems to have completely gone by the wayside. Part of the problem is that many young people don't read anymore, aside from what is posted in front of them on the internet. I am slightly horrified that the posted note came from an honor student. There is nothing honorable about the education that person is receiving....

    That said, I don't know that posts like yours make any difference. My teenaged family members roll their eyes when I try to correct them. Youth of today, I guess. I just hope that they wise up a bit before they become the professionals of tomorrow.

  2. My apologies for my generation. Our communication skills are so poor, it seems we often times do not bother to develop our thoughts, let alone articulate them fully. (Why else would our everyday conversations be crammed with the expressions "like," "I mean," and "I'm just saying"?)

    Just remember--some of us, some of us haven't forgotten what it means to write well, to express ourselves clearly and confidently.


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