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THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD WRITING
Some Comments from Former Students–Complete Statements

 

IF YOU WANT TO GET A GOOD JOB....

When I was taking one of Dr. Pope's classes in the early 1980s, he told students that we could all improve our writing and should work to do so. I asked him after class if my writing was really that bad. He said that everyone needs to try to improve their writing skills. I thought, "Whatever," and put it out of my mind. After I graduated and moved to Washington, D.C., I realized the error of my ways. Every employer I applied to wanted three writing samples. I realized that the papers I wrote in college were going to have a major impact on my ability to be hired. What an eye opener.

I know what you're thinking: It's a tight job market now and any company would love to hire me. That may be true if you are a computer programmer in the high tech world. The job market is not as good for those of you majoring in most other fields. There will be several candidates competing for one job and the selection may turn upon your writing skills, especially for the best jobs. All things being equal, what company wouldn't hire the better writer?

I work for a consulting firm that advises clients on communicating with angry residents at environmental pollution sites. As a project manager, I am responsible and accountable for everything that happens on my projects. We produce volumes of written materials -- fact sheets, newsletters, talking points, question and answer documents -- to help us prepare for speaking with residents or the press. Each and every document must be reviewed and edited before it is sent to clients, most of which are Fortune 500 companies or high profile law firms. The rule in our office is that at least one other person must review the document before it goes out the door. If it is a very important document, usually two to three people review it. It is not uncommon to write three to four drafts -- try doing that within two days if you are a poor writer. Some of our newsletters and fact sheets are read by thousands of people. I can't afford to let poorly written materials get out to the public.

As you can imagine, writing skills factor in when my colleagues and I make a decision on which candidate to hire when we have a job opening. While we all agree that we can teach a candidate how to write in our particular style, we are not willing to teach basic grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Our jobs are too hectic.

It was embarrassing to get back a draft that was covered with red ink at my first job. It made me wish that I had taken writing more seriously in college. In fact, I even wish Dr. Pope had been harder on me. It pains me to say that Dr. Pope was right and I was wrong. (He didn't pay me to write this--although he should.) Good writing skills will make you stand out against other job candidates and will help you advance more quickly in your career.

I'm happy to speak with any of you about this. E-mail me at rsmith@decisionquest.com or roxannes@mindspring.com.

By the way, I didn't have anyone to review this for me before I sent it to Dr. Pope, so I asked him to make sure that my grammar and punctuation are correct. Ask your roommates or friends to do the same for you.

Good luck in his class.

Roxanne Smith

 

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW....

I was once where you are now--struggling with Dr. Pope's standards for quality writing. Looking back, I am very grateful he stressed this because it made me work hard on my writing for his classes--mostly because I desired an A, and it was impossible to get an A without meeting his standards. Thankfully, now I realize the hard work paid off. My current job would be very difficult if I couldn't write well.

I am a child care coordinator at my neighborhood elementary school. I oversee a kindergarten enrichment program, before and after school care, and full day child care for those days when school isn't in session. I write professionally in the form of published newsletters, parent letters, class catalogs, and other materials. I also sit on the school district governing body for child care and help prepare district procedure statements and handbooks.

I supervise a staff of mostly college students, one of which is my director of before and after school care. She is in her fifth year of college with straight As, but she still makes many basic writing errors, enough so that I have to edit every single thing she writes before we can publish it for our parents.

Many on my staff are studying to become teachers, and when they ask me to proofread their writing, I see how poorly they write. I try to help them improve, but I worry that when they launch their careers without solid writing skills they will be at a disadvantage.

Our state, Colorado, has testing standards in place, as do many other states. This testing of students in writing and other subjects yields a grade for the teacher, as well as for the school and its district. Students in our schools do not do well if their teachers don't know how to write themselves and, ultimately, school funding hinges on the test scores.

I work in a school district with a very strict superintendent who insists that any piece of writing that goes out to the public must be topnotch. And rightfully so. The public expects nothing less.

Personally, I am always working with my 13 year old daughter on her writing skills, and I like to quote what Dr. Pope taught me about fully explaining your thoughts. I also remind myself and her that sloppy writing reflects sloppy thinking. (Does that sound familiar?) I have actually found that struggling with writing does indeed sharpen my thought process.

My daughter is a straight A student in 8th grade where she is in advanced classes. Technically, she is a gifted student. But she suffers from teachers who either can't write or don't know how to teach writing. As a parent, I have to pick up the slack. Fortunately, I learned how to write in college. But it is very hard for some parents I know. Because they themselves can't write well, they can't help their own children when the teachers fail.

I guess my point would be that even though I am not in a profession typically associated with writing, I need to write professionally every day, and my work is judged on my ability to communicate effectively. Written communication is even a separate entry on my annual work performance review, and annual raises are affected by my skills or lack thereof in communication. And in my unpaid career as a parent, my writing ability is even more important. I don't want to put my child at a disadvantage because I can't help her learn to write.

Some of this I am sure you have heard before and probably ignored. But don't be totally surprised if you discover these points yourselves when you begin your careers.

I will tell you one more thing. When my principal reviews something I have written for the parent community and returns it with a comment about how wonderful it sounds and he wouldn't change a thing, the pride I feel carries me forward. I wouldn't want to work without that feeling of pride. There's no other feeling in the world like it.

Ruth McPeck
Rmc4040@aol.com

 

With Quill and Parchment--

A friendly note to Dr. Pope's students. When I was at Illinois State in the early 1980s, I considered myself a fairly good writer. Yet when Dr. Pope returned several corrected drafts, there appearedto be a contradiction between his thinking and mine. This was quite evident by his numerous notations (very helpful, by the way) that were strewn throughout my pages.

I value Dr. Pope's emphasis on trying to help his students develop good writing skills. After completing my B.A. at Illinois State, I then completed my M.A. in Russian Culture at Kansas University. During graduate school there was little focus on quality writing – rather, it was an expectation that a student was already able to write very well. There were no excuses accepted in my graduate department for anything less than excellence in writing. After all, we were studying the great Russian writers!

Good writing is comprised of all that "unnecessary" stuff – grammar, punctuation, and spelling – right? I'd like to share a vivid memory from one of the classes I taught at Kansas University as a graduate student. I was teaching Beginning Russian to mostly American students. After learning the strange sounds of a new alphabet, we studied noun declension and how the noun endings change in Russian according to how they are used in a sentence. Surprisingly, I had a challenge with some of the freshmen and even the sophomores in the class. We had to learn English grammar, e.g., direct versus indirect object, before they could understand Russian grammar! Needless to say, it is definitely more difficult learning two languages at the same time.

On a more practical side, my two youngest daughters still struggle with their writing skills. Their ages are 25 and 28. I saw this difficulty as they went through their high school years. Each daughter often brought home papers with either A or B grades, and of course, Dad was proud. But I read many of those papers and was astonished at the large number of spelling and grammatical errors they contained. I contacted some of their teachers, but was told that as long as the students were "communicating" well, the "small errors" were not a serious problem. This is in fact not true. Among other things, others judge us every day based on whether or not we appear to be "educated." And things like spelling and punctuation errors and misused words definitely make us appear to be uneducated.

My wife and I constantly tried to help our daughters with developing their writing skills in high school, and even do so at times today. I wish they would have been at Illinois State and had the benefit of learning better skills with professors like Dr. Pope.

Writing is hard work. I know that, because I continue to learn and strive to improve my writing. During most of my professional life, I've been in the university system. Specifically, I've worked in administration where there is a high demand for clarity in writing. (Have you ever noticed how thick a college catalog is?) For example, while working as a director of a college Registrar office, I was especially challenged by one writing assignment. The Dean requested all directors to evaluate his/her department and write a report for an accreditation review. This is a very significant document that impacts literally the "life" of a college or university. Who ever started the false rumor that "I don't need to learn how to write – it's not important?"

Take, or rather grab, all the training and help that Dr. Pope--and any other professor--offers to you. Work hard at writing well--and take any critical feedback you can get seriously. Dr. Pope has your best interests in mind. He knows the future value of good writing skills. You will definitely need these skills in your life's work, and as you someday guide and teach your children.

Best wishes for much success in Dr. Pope's classes.
Bob Bosanac

 

YOU CAN SURVIVE....

Greetings Fellow "Victims" of Dr. Pope.

I was a student of Dr. Pope's for many classes, a graduate assistant to him during my post-graduate year, traveled to Russia with his groups on three occasions, and have lived to tell the tale. He's asked me to share with you the impact of good writing skills outside the world of academia.

I've been a Product Manager, Marketing Manager, Consultant, Service Manager, Training Manager and Documentation Manager among the various titles I've held to this point in my career. I came to Dr. Pope's class with more than the average grammar, spelling and vocabulary skills and didn't suffer unduly from his infamous editing pen on those points. I wrote what I thought was insightful, well-composed prose that made perfectly clear points at all times. At the bottom, and at times, the middle of these well-crafted compositions were the words, "So what?" in his highly illegible handwriting. Apparently transfixed by the beauty of my own crystal clear thoughts and words, I had managed to avoid communicating the point. I have tried to profit from that lesson ever since. It is not enough to write with good grammar and the best possible vocabulary, it is important to make the read worthwhile, to get to the point in a concise and clear manner. I've written or taught for the majority of my career and continue to do so professionally and as a volunteer teaching English to Russian immigrants.

The amount of correspondence I've received from prospective employees, vendors, co-workers and managers that contains grammatical and spelling errors is deplorable. Clients and employers alike judge you by your written work. You do not get the chance to present your ideas or interview for a job in person if the written materials sent in advance are of poor quality. The burgeoning use of the Internet has only made the tendency for faceless written communication more prevalent. When I receive sub-standard resumés, proposals or other documentation, I don't think the author cares about the document or my time. Take the time and trouble to make certain that in all cases you are putting forth your best effort.

When I was a Graduate Assistant, students habitually came to see me because they thought I (and Drs. Pope and Richard Payne) graded too hard on points of spelling, grammar and writing in general. I maintained then and now that poor writing interferes with clarity of expression and communication of an idea, concept, instruction or message. Your writing matters regardless of the career in which you plan to employ your skills and talents. Even computer programmers have to write program specifications to obtain approval and funding. Have a friend or someone else review your writing and take the time to re-read. Don't count on Bill Gates to catch all your grammatical and spelling errors.

I close by wishing you every success--and patience.
Best regards,
Tricia Goebel
Product Marketing Manager
Océ USA Color Print Systems
tricia_g36@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

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