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Published:August 31st, 2005 12:04 EST
A Habit of Writing Wrongs

A Habit of Writing Wrongs

By Sean Stubblefield

A recent report by the National Commission on Writing in America`s Schools and Colleges reveals that writing skills are being neglected in many schools, and promotes school reform that addresses this concern. The 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that most graduating students entering college are not able to write properly.

But you don`t really need official documentation to realize that writing skills among the general population, especially many of the young, in America are pathetically and severely deficient. Just read what they write, whether it is a class essay, a letter or an e-mail, and it is abundantly clear that a large number of people seriously lack writing proficiency. Constructed with bad spelling, punctuation and grammar, and virtually no concept of sentence structure, their writing is evidence enough of a national epidemic of poor writing skills. A friend of mine-- who is beginning his second year of college, directly out of high school-- is a very bright and thoughtful individual but his writing is atrocious. And this isn`t an exception to the rule.

I think it is because too many schools are not enforcing and re-enforcing the rules for the correct and appropriate ways to write, and how to write well. A lot of teachers are letting writing errors slide, for whatever reason, and are not correcting students` mistakes.

As if writing coherently were irrelevant. Many young people, and even many adults, simply do not consider it important or necessary for communication, or innocently don`t know any better.
It doesn`t really matter to a great many of them that they can`t write well, usually disregarding it as some trivial and peculiar quirk of old folks or nerds.

You might be brilliant, you could have great ideas, but writing poorly makes you seem stupid and uneducated (and even unprofessional) and not to be taken seriously, as much as speaking poorly does. Language and thought influence each other; we conceive in the terms of the language we use, and our language is affected by what we conceive. The sophistication of language aptitude correlates to the sophistication of thought. Being able to write well helps us to think and communicate better " and more thoroughly and extensively-- than when writing badly.
Perhaps we can blame, to some degree, the popular usage of e-mail, instant messaging (IM) and internet bulletin boards (BBS) as common methods of communicating, in which precision and elegance are typically deemed inconsequential. Most people tend to be less careful or caring of writing correctly or formally, often using a language of abbreviated short hand codes.
Instead of to be " they write 2 b ", or turn you are " into u r ".

And that`s fine, as far as this type of interaction is concerned. The point of communication is to communicate, and if you can do that in a shared understanding of code, then so be it. The problem is when that cavalier attitude of indifference to quality and propriety transfers into other forms of writing. Unrefined, crude and casual standards which may be acceptable for e-mails, BBS and notes are not appropriate for mature and professional writing (such as college papers, books, magazines, business reports and formal speeches). Even I have become somewhat slack in bothering with proper structure or proof reading in my e-mails, but I don`t let this nonchalance carry over into my other writing. I know the difference. Unfortunately, and apparently, many people don`t. As there are place-appropriate and people-appropriate behaviors or etiquette, there are medium-appropriate behaviors. You don`t act the same at work or at a dinner party as you do with your friends or at home in private. Likewise, you should not treat a research paper or news article like you would your diary or bulletin board. Quaint and inconvenient as it may seem, there is a right and wrong " or, if you prefer, better and worse-- way to do some things. And schools need to do a much better job teaching this.