|I’m a little worried about our young people. Too few of them are developing strong basic writing skills. I see it every day as I work with businesses whose employees have difficulty expressing themselves in writing. The problem is partly due to modern technology, which has given us shortcuts that can make it seem as though the old ways of doing things no longer have value. But being able to write well is about more than getting something down on the page: It’s about the quality of one’s thinking. And high-quality thinking is something you need no matter how many apps are contained in that amazing gizmo that used to be just a telephone.
Look at texting. It has changed the way people communicate. All the old rules are out the window. Now, the faster you can write it, the better. The more acronyms you use in your message, the fewer buttons you have to press. It’s fast, it’s efficient, it gets the job done. It’s a new language – a useful language – driven as much by the capabilities of electronic devices as by the need to convey information or thoughts. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with texting. I myself am a purist about writing, but even I can appreciate the practicality of being able to say in a few thumb taps what I might choose to relate in an entire luxurious line of carefully constructed prose.
So what’s the problem? You write your way, I’ll write mine. But there is a problem, and it’s reflected in the growing number of young people (perhaps some of your employees) who can no longer write in the formal, professional style that business demands. It may be fine to text in 10 keystrokes about the time or location of a meeting, but that sort of shorthand doesn’t cut it when you want to explain or discuss anything of substance. It certainly won’t suffice for letters to prospective customers, the content of your Web site or business documents and contracts. The more people use the short writing style, the less practice they get using correct English. And this puts them at a distinct disadvantage when they are called upon to write something of any complexity.
Texting-style writing is probably here to stay, and that’s fine. If all you want to say is: GF, R U THERE? NE14KFC? BBFN*, then use whatever means you like, and then enjoy that delicious salty, crispy, greasy meal to your heart’s content (or heart attack, whichever comes first). You who read this are very likely in a position to influence the young people who work for you, as well as your own kids. You can do a lot for their futures if you remind them there’s another way to write that’s just as practical and just as useful as the short style they’re so adept at. It's a way that will enable them to serve up ideas that can’t be contained in the 140 characters that Twitter allows for; a way that makes it possible to handle nuance, explain a process or build one thought upon another until they’ve said something worth reading – something worth thinking about. Remind them that English contains immense variety, subtlety, emotion and beauty with which we can express to a precise degree, every shade of meaning imaginable, and that the more capable they are of using this fantastic language, the more they will connect. And isn’t that the purpose of writing, after all?
*Girlfriend. Are you there? Anyone for Kentucky Fried Chicken? Bye-bye for now.