• December 12th, 2019

There’s no escape from good writing


I could have called this piece “resist online informality.” In many ways, that is what gave birth to this week’s instalment. While each one of us possesses a distinctly personal style of writing, there are certain rules of the game that cannot be broken, cannot be negotiated. 

Sue de Groot had an article in South Africa’s Sunday Times, in which she wrote about “painful allergies to sloppy grammar.” She used the following lines to describe the sin of bad writing:  

“One of the disadvantages of being a pedant is that you are in constant danger of being toppled from the heights of pleasure to the depths of devastation…when the writer uses a word incorrectly. This is an unspeakably cruel thing to do to a pedantic reader. It’s as though you are chewing on the most delicious caramel toffee and then you get to a layer of decaying rodent material that coats your tongue with rancid bitterness. The joy evaporates…you just can’t recapture that first love.”  

   While Sue’s article is dated, current literature still places a high value on good, clear and crisp writing. Career Addict, for example, notes that “writing skills are crucial in nearly every profession.” 
While SMS, WhatsApp and other communication platforms may allow for hastily-composed but sloppy, confusing and often lazy messaging, one needs to remember that the downside is costly. I must mention here that this also applies to poorly written and shoddily edited newspaper reports.

   Nothing takes the joy out of reading like a cluttered sentence that leaves a reader vainly searching for meaning.

For a long while, the most trusted signpost has been KISS – keep it short and simple. While the digital age and its innovations are an all-embracing rage, some employers warn that employees and would-be staff should realize that written communication is a strong measure of a worker’s potential.
   “Most online job postings require some form of written content and the quality of writing often serves as a gatekeeper. Something as simple as a grammatical mistake or use of text-speak in the email containing your well-written resume and cover letter might cause your application packet to get moved into the trash folder.”

   Kyle Wiens warns that “every applicant – and that includes writers, sales people, operations staff and programmers – for any position at my companies must take and pass a mandatory grammar test.”
He argues that “words are your projection in your physical absence. And for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there and they’re.” 

   I have seen this elementary mistake in many writings. It does not hurt to spend more time proofreading and editing one’s piece in order to obviate the irritants that detract from good writing.

   Another human resources expert is convinced that “if you are sending emails full of typos, poorly constructed sentences and grammatical errors, then it can imply that you take a similar attitude towards your work.”

Writing in The Straits Times “page 2 primer,” Ong Sor Fern gives fulsome praise to old-school writing that always distinguishes between formal and informal communication. 

   She writes that, “as a dinosaur from the epistolary age, I write my business email messages very differently from my personal emails. Some might think me pedantic, but I think proper forms of address, full grammatical sentences with punctuation and upper/lower cases are a basic requirement for business email.” She also does not have kind words for those who misspell her name or that of her employer.
There is no doubt that great and good writing takes time and practice. Simple and easy-to-understand language. And the bonus? “Great writing will impress in any job.”      


Staff Reporter
2019-10-04 08:13:24 | 2 months ago

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