Vr3: Reputation, Relationships, Results

Can you write?

Many of us in the strategic communications field are often asked by college students and recent graduates how to best break into the profession. My first question typically is: Can you write?

No question it is challenging to find jobs in any field, and there are obvious prerequisite skills when entering a particular industry. In our world, if you cannot write, you’re not going to get very far. Writing strategic plans, ghost-writing for executives, posting on Facebook, blogging, newsletter writing, emailing and drafting internal memos are just a few of the job requirements in the communications world.

Over the years, I have seen cover letters and resumes filled with errors. A company’s name misspelled. The city’s name misspelled. Poor grammar and dreadful punctuation everywhere. You wonder how this happens.

So, what prompted this climb on top of the soapbox?

Grading papers.

I have been an adjunct professor since 2009 at one of the local universities. My students mostly aspire to be in some form of journalism, public relations or communications field.

The problem? Too many of them do not know how to punctuate. They confuse “their” and “there,” “to” and “too,” “it’s” and “its.” They do not know the difference between plural and possessive. They look blankly back at me if I ask about independent clauses or compound sentences.

And, if all that’s not bad enough, they can’t spell – and for reasons I can’t explain, they refuse to use spell check.

Not all of them; but too many of them. And some are seniors and juniors.

Students want to know how to get good jobs in communications and journalism. They want connections, advice, leads, recommendations and tips.

Yet they give minimum effort in their work, misspell their own names (I wish I was kidding; an automatic F), misspell my name (absolutely an automatic F) and leave out key information. They need help on basic sentence structure, standard capitalization and use of periods and commas.

Makes me sad.

Makes me angry.

I am not sure whether they show up to college ill prepared, but it seems like at least something has to change on the collegiate level.

This is not a new revelation. Take note of Jennifer Williamson’s 2008 column on Distance-Education.org that says:

“When you’re in college, written communication is key. Your professors will judge your competence, your grade, and even your intelligence by the way you write. … Good writing will make a good impression. Grammatical mistakes could be embarrassing—and might even have an effect on your grade.”

Never mind professors. How about potential employers? The goal for a student is to get a job. That’s going to be even more difficult if you can’t write.

My advice to graduates or potential graduates? If you’re seeking a job in communications or journalism, then you better do your homework on what it takes to be a good writer. Take additional writing classes if you have to. Read more. Write often. Learn to self-edit carefully. And don’t assume that someone will overlook your mistakes.

Now, let me go spell check this before posting.

OK, that took 14 seconds.

Time well spent.

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  1. Debbie Marques
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more. I was floored xx years ago when I was in grad school for journalism and many, many of the undergrads COULD NOT WRITE. Blame it on their high schools? I don’t know. Now that I’m on my school district’s Board of Education, we are so overwhelmed with making sure our students pass achievement tests that perhaps good old fashioned writing skills are not emphasized as much as they once were. However, some of the errors you mention: spelling their own name wrong, instructor’s name wrong, company name wrong…well, that’s just begs for a place in the trash can or an “F”. NO EXCUSE.

  2. Just teasin
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    “Yet they give minimum effort in their work” — Wouldn’t it be “Yet they give the minimum effort…” lol

  3. Allison Foster
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    I am a college student and I completely agree with you. I make an effort to try to remember correct grammar and punctuation. There are a few writing skills that I need to brush up on. If I feel like I made an error in punctuation or grammar, I always check. I do make mistakes though.