When I was a freshman at Central Michigan University, I quickly gained a reputation among other students on my dorm floor as the go-to person if you wanted your papers edited. I found it enjoyable…but it also had an unintended side effect. I got to see first hand the level of written communication that earns you a high school diploma, and it was very sad to see.
Fast forward five years, and I was still at CMU working on a Masters and a Professional Development Certification. I was paying the bills and honing my adult education skills as a Teaching Assistant and I was disheartened to see that writing skills had not improved. In fact, they seemed to be getting worse! By that time, texting had become a major form of communication, and I was forced to include a rule in the course syllabus deducting 10% off of any assignment for the first text-message style abbreviation, with an additional 5% for subsequent violations. Never in my life did I think I would have to tell students that b4 or imo is never acceptable in formal writing; and yet I did. Multiple times. Every semester.
Now, many of these students are in the working world, and it appears the quality of their writing did not improve in college either. According to a recent article from Inc., a 2004 study published by the National Commission on Writing found that blue chip businesses were spending as much as $3.1 Billion on remedial training for writing annually. This would have been right around the time my freshman peers were graduating and entering the working world. A 2006 report which surveyed business leaders found, in the opinions of the business leaders, 26.2% of college students had deficient writing skills. The National Commission on Writing also noted that of the $3.1 Billion that was spent, $2.9 Billion of it was on training provided to current employees of the businesses, not on new hires; so we all could use some work when it comes to writing.
How important is written communication? Allow me to re-frame the question: How much confidence do you have in a business leader who cannot write a coherent sentence? Do you trust a business you are thinking of buying merchandise from if their advertisement or signage has obvious spelling or grammar errors? Absolutely not!
As businesses implement Applicant Tracking Software in the hiring process, it becomes easier for them to weed out poor writers from the applicant pool. After all, you have to submit a written resume and often times a cover letter as well, and ATS can eliminate the worst grammar offenders from those two documents alone. This is sure to widen the gap between those with good employment prospects and those whose prospects are bleak.
If you want an easy, free and enjoyable way to improve your writing skills, consider reading books. Go get a library card, and check out books from any genre you enjoy. Better yet, try reading multiple genres! Please note the reading should be edited and published works, not self-published works or anything on the internet, where grammar and sentence structure are atrocious.
As you increase your reading, you will increase your familiarity with basic rules of sentence structure, spelling and grammar. After a while, you will just know when a sentence looks and sounds correct, and when it does not. You do not need to break out the English textbook and diagram sentences grade-school style; you just need to know when something looks or sounds right with less regard for the detailed nuances of grammar. This will not get you to grammatically perfect writing, but it will elevate your writing far above your peers, which is all you need to reap the rewards at the office.