Students Learn, But Are Challenged in Writing

In general, I judge that you, students, are able to demonstrate a clear command of the course content. Your class discussions are well focused, and your individual formal papers are prepared in a manner that coveys your comprehension the details of each week’s material.

However, in reading many assignments, I have noticed a pattern in your writing.

1. passive voice
2. comma faults
3. misspelling
4. punctuation errors

These grammatical and compositional errors are, in the big scheme, minor, and I do not think that they reflect negatively on our abilities. I think that if these are the only errors that we make, we can be proud of ourselves. However, I often judge people on their ability to polish their work. I ask myself, especially when evaluating employees and job applicants, whether I could expect a level of attention to detail that will ensure all portions of a task assignment are completed.

One of the things that I learned as a business owner is that the details matter. I may have had this thought instilled in me while I was in the military–that is one organization that operates on details–but I compare my actions with my clients to the errors that I made with those that did not hire me or my companies. Those that did not hire me often did so because of a minor detail: a proposal delivered an hour or a day late, phone calls not returned promptly. Seemingly minor details that derailed our efforts to secure new business, all because of the negative perception that I or we left in the prospective client’s mind.

On the other hand, I know that our clients hired us because they judge we will keep our word and do everything well. My employees and I have been complimented on the quality of our professional and administrative services. We have had clients call us to thank us for thinking to send handwritten holiday and congratulatory cards. In this day and age, who handwrites any longer? Those who value communication and rapport. How well we communicate is vital to our success, both personally and professionally. I fervently want you to be excellent in your professional work. I do not want you to be just good, I want you to be great. One of the ways that you can set yourself apart from the mass is to write well.

I do not ask you to become proficient at prose (let alone poetry!), but I do ask you challenge yourself to properly compose the words that you choose. Do not let your words take control of your message, use your words to control your message. Follow William Faulkner’s advice, "Kill your darlings," and Samuel Johnson’s admonition, "Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." Write what is necessary, punctuate it so that you demonstrate your attention to detail.

Handwritten notes may no longer be in vogue for business correspondence. That is sad. Life goes on. We now use computer-mediated communication modalities, but Standard English remains. Even in your e-mail messages, write well. Show off…just a little bit. Demonstrate that you earned an education, not just a degree.

‘Nuf said.


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