For almost two decades, I taught at a Big Ten university. It was a wonderful experience. I taught advanced writing classes in a school of journalism, and I was often amazed by some of the creative and fresh approaches to old subjects exhibited by the students. Many times, however, I was disappointed with the quality of writing. Looking back over 18 years, I can say there’s been a sharp decline in writing skills.
Let’s be frank. Today, writing well still counts in many ways. But, sadly, there’s a lack of sophistication and purpose to much of what we read. Why? It may be that we’re living in a world of 140 characters, Facebook likes and Snap Chat. Short was always good, but clarity and meaning used to matter more.
We’re becoming a society reverting to Morse code: You know, LOL, OMW, OMG, etc.
Have you ever noticed how often a text is taken out of context or misinterpreted? Quite often. I frequently ask someone who texts repeatedly to pick up the phone and talk to me. The verbal exchange often clears up the muddiness of cryptic texts or social media postings.
Writing long form is not the sole vehicle of novelists and researchers. We still need to communicate, and sometimes it takes more than 20 words to make a point. Also, remember, while we hear a lot of things, such as speeches and television programs, they still are based on the written word. Good writing will not leave anytime soon, thank goodness. Problem is, there aren’t as many people doing satisfactory prose as there was in the past.
At Hirons, we place a great deal of emphasis on good writing. We churn out a lot of copy: radio and television spots, news releases, website copy, brochures and fliers. Luckily, we have developed a strong, diverse team of communicators who provide solid, effective copy to clients. Our goal is that, as this material hits the printed page, Web or airwaves, people will respond to it. Our business depends on this skill. If we don’t write well, we don’t get a second chance.
We have a full-time editor on staff who sees just about everything destined for external audiences. She reviews, fact checks, rewrites and counsels staff on better writing techniques, word usage, grammar and clarity. This is a very important position in our firm. Without this level of review, our material would simply not be as good as it can be.
I don’t know where we are headed with our written communications. They certainly appear to be headed to wherever the technology takes them. But the more abbreviated our communication becomes, the more I treasure a well-written article or book. Ten years ago, I would never have imagined reading a book or magazine on a computer or tablet, but it doesn’t really change how I feel about good writing. Times may have changed, but values don’t.