Friday, March 11, 2005

What corporates can't build: a sentence

A lot of my friends have asked me why I write a blog. I can’t possibly give a clear cut management-style cost-analysis benefit and pin-point the exact plus points of writing one because blogging, according to me, is made of a lot of intangibles. The more I think about the blogspace and the way people connect themselves through it, the more it is surprising. Blogs reached a special place amongst us when we had a *case discussion* about them in our MHR class. Even after cruising in the blogspace for arguably so long, I was jolted to find it in our case discussion in the class room. I didn’t know the exact implications of what I saw as a way to express ones’ views, and, I didn’t expect our course outline to be so well updated! Jokes apart, here’s one article that pinpoints a very good reason for developing a writing habit. What better way to learn something than to have it as part of our hobby?

The title of the original article was: What corporate America can’t build: a sentence. I suspect it applies equally well, or perhaps even more, to Indians. While I consider myself a fledgling when it comes to writing, I'm quite surprised to have a huge company in form of IIMites, let alone others.

The NYT article has expired, but I managed to get the excerpts from it. If you haven’t started a blog yet, this one's for you. If you already have one, this is for keeping your spirits up.

Hundreds of inquiries from managers and executives seeking to improve their own or their workers' writing pop into Hogan's computer in-basket each month, he says, describing a number that has surged as e-mail has replaced the phone for much workplace communication. Millions of employees must write more frequently on the job than previously. And many are making a hash of it.

"E-mail is a party to which English teachers have not been invited," Hogan said. "It has companies tearing their hair out."

A recent survey of 120 American corporations reached a similar conclusion. The study, by the National Commission on Writing, a panel established by the College Board, concluded that a third of employees in the nation's blue-chip companies wrote poorly and that businesses were spending as much as $3.1 billion annually on remedial training.

"It's not that companies want to hire Tolstoy," said Susan Traiman, a director at the Business Roundtable, an association of leading chief executives whose corporations were surveyed in the study. "But they need people who can write clearly, and many employees and applicants fall short of that standard."

Millions of inscrutable e-mail messages are clogging corporate computers by setting off requests for clarification, and many of the requests, in turn, are also chaotically written, resulting in whole cycles of confusion.

This musn't be news to anyone who has some work experience...

"The more electronic and global we get, the less important the spoken word has become, and in e-mail clarity is critical," said Sean Phillips, recruitment director at another Silicon Valley corporation, Applera, a supplier of equipment for life science research, where most employees have advanced degrees. "Considering how highly educated our people are, many can't write clearly in their day-to-day work."

An entire educational industry has developed to offer remedial writing instruction to adults, with hundreds of public and private universities, for-profit schools and freelance teachers offering evening classes as well as workshops, video and online courses in business and technical writing. Kathy Keenan, a onetime legal proofreader who teaches business writing at the University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, said she sought to dissuade students from sending business messages in the crude shorthand they learned to tap out on their pagers as teenagers.
"hI KATHY i am sending u the assignmnet again," one student wrote to her recently. "i had sent you the assignment earlier but i didnt get a respond. If u get this assgnment could u please respond . thanking u for ur cooperation."

Hogan, who founded his online Business Writing Center a decade ago after years of teaching composition at Illinois State University here, says that the use of multiple exclamation points and other nonstandard punctuation like the :-) symbol, are fine for personal e-mail but that companies have erred by allowing experimental writing devices to flood into business writing.
"E-mail has just erupted like a weed, and instead of considering what to say when they write, people now just let thoughts drool out onto the screen," Hogan said. "It has companies at their wits' end."
I guess I can now give more than an answer for writing a blog.

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