Friday, August 26, 2011

What's Good Writing Got to Do With It?

Way back when, my late father, who was managing partner in a large accounting firm, complained that many of the young people coming on board didn't know how to write properly. While these college graduates displayed sufficient talent for performing accounting tasks, the reports they were required to prepare contained writing flaws of all sorts: incomplete sentences, grammar gaffes and, of course, horrendous spelling errors.

So there were already numerous minefields out there in the writing world when along came the Web, email, Twitter and texting. And before long we were knee-deep in shorthand, because 1) we were all so busy, and 2) it was all so hip.

As an English major, I cringe when I open an email message that is not only rendered with indecipherable brevity but in all lowercase letters as well. A complete sentence might be hidden in there somewhere, but it's tough to find. And I resent even having to try.

Back in the day, good writing was essential to good business. Oddly enough, it still is. Writing, after all, is a communication skill. It is a critical component of effective marketing. It provokes thought, makes a salient point, drives clarity. Simply put, good writing packs a lot more power than even the most clever cyber shorthand.

There are so many places you can go to brush up on English usage and writing essentials, but two of my favorites -- because they are invariably useful, straightforward and entertaining -- are The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White and The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

Dad would have loved them both.

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