Are Staff’s Poor Writing Skills Causing Problems?
Why it’s important to write correctly
Written communication takes several forms: emails, texts, letters (to clients and the IRS, for example), client reports, performance evaluations, etc. Thoughtful writing of these messages is important because:
- It shows that the author is thinking clearly.
- The way you write says as much about you as the way you dress – are you a careful person who pays attention to detail and makes an effort to conform to good standards?
- You want people to understand you the first time without requiring additional time to clarify.
- Good writing is especially important when conveying complex information. Receivers can read it several times until they understand the entire message.
No one is suggesting that written communication should be at the level expected of a novelist or an English teacher. We are merely suggesting that CPA firm staff should be able to write in a way that is at least average.
Below are two modern-day causes (among many) of poor writing.
Cause #1: We’re always in a rush
In today’s world, it seems everything and everybody is in a rush. We prefer short articles, blogs and attention-getting headlines (if we read at all) to longer (not necessarily long) prose. Many feel compelled to answer a text or cellphone call instantly. Like zombies, we fix our eyes on our phones while we cross streets and drive our cars instead of waiting a few minutes until it’s safer to respond. But to be an effective (again, not great, but average) communicator, you cannot rush. Effective writing isn’t limited to creating and typing out the message. It’s also thinking about what you want to write and then proofing it after you create it. (How many of you proof your emails before hitting the “send” button?) All of this flies in the face of those who are always in a rush.
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Cause #2: Texting
In the June 14 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Jerald McNair, an administrator at a suburban Chicago school district, wrote:
“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, written communication is among the skills viewed as fundamental to an employee doing a job effectively and is an essential skill for success in the 21st century. [Unfortunately,] many students rely heavily on texting as their main way of writing. This creates bad habits.”
Texting was never intended for elegant, accurate writing. It’s designed for quick messages only. Pecking away on those tiny cellphone keyboards is awkward, so people keep messages brief. To speed things up, texters often send single, unpunctuated phrases rather than full sentences, and resort to TLAs (to my older readers, that’s “three letter acronyms” like LOL, BTW and IMO). To some, using proper punctuation like periods at the end of sentences gives an impression of formality that borders on rudeness and thus is to be avoided at all costs.
Says Jose Fuentealamo, writing in Aleteia:
“This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ever send a quick text message, laden with abbreviations and TLAs. Nor are we saying that everyone should try to be Shakespeare. But if we are always looking to save time and space and don’t care about proper spelling and grammar, we often end up losing the ability to express ourselves properly and clearly with more formal writing such as emails, business messages and reports.”
McNair concludes his article:
“Texting is here to stay. What can’t become our new normal is allowing our youths to supplant formal language skills with ever-evolving faddish language. Too much texting time threatens us all.”
We emailed a dozen MPs of great firms and asked them: “Do you think it’s important for your firm’s professional staff to have ‘decent’ writing skills?” I defined “decent” as not expecting people to write like a novelist or an English teacher but instead, to be able to compose a nicely worded email, letter or report that is clear and free of blatant grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes.
Their response was unanimous. All say it’s very important. One added: “It tells you a lot about an individual’s attention to detail and pride in their output.” Another said: “Writing errors erode client and colleague trust and credibility.” Several added: “It’s atrocious how younger people write today.”
I followed up with: “If someone is a weak writer, can they still become a partner?” Responses were an even mix of yes and no. So, yes, writing is important, but maybe not so important that it will prevent someone from becoming a partner if they exhibit other valuable skills.
I know many young people might not be happy with the message of this blog. But to quote a former supreme justice, what I write here “happens to be my opinion…and it happens to be correct!”
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