Oswald Letter

Kids’ dwindling writing skills are no reason to LOL

Textingby Dan Oswald

Is writing becoming a lost art? The adoption of new technology has forever changed how we communicate with one another—and that includes the written word. I’m certain my kids write more with their thumbs, texting incessantly on their phones, than any other way. And I say that even though two of my kids are in college, where they are required to write papers. But what they write or type is far outdistanced by what they text. I think they have calluses on their thumbs!

But the younger generation—and I must admit it’s bleeding over into the rest of society—writes in short bursts made up of what appears to be an entirely new language. We’re all now familiar with LOL (laugh out loud) and BTW (by the way), as they have become commonplace in our language. But there are others that fall into the 50 most common texting abbreviations that you might find less familiar. Try these on for size:

AAMOF—as a matter of fact

FWIW—for what it’s worth

NNTR—no need to reply

ROTFL—rolling on the floor laughing

SPOC—single point of contact

TTYL—talk to you later

Maybe some of these are familiar to you; they weren’t to me. As we do more and more of our e-mailing from our mobile devices—namely, our phones—these same abbreviations are moving from our texts into our e-mails and other forms of written communication. Have you ever uttered “LOL” out loud? I have.

For those of you with young children, will the day come when they use “LOL” somewhere in the text of a term paper? A survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers conducted by the Pew Research Center found that digital technologies are reshaping the way students write. Some of the ways technology is affecting students’ writing are positive, while others are not.

And the teachers had some concerns about how digital technologies are changing the way kids write. Among their concerns are an increasing tendency to use informal language and style in formal writing assignments and a cultural emphasis on truncated forms of expression that hinder students’ ability to write longer and think critically about complicated topics. Furthermore, 68 percent of the teachers say that digital tools make students more likely to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing, and 46 percent say these tools make students more likely to “write too fast and be careless.”

Is any of this surprising to you?

These students are the employees of tomorrow. And I’m willing to bet you’re already seeing some of the issues the teachers are concerned about emerging in your workplace. Have you ever received a work e-mail filled with text abbreviations and incomplete sentences that was more like a text than a professional piece of correspondence? Does it matter?

I think it does matter. I think words matter. The surveyed teachers’ fears matter. Our workers of tomorrow—and maybe of today—are using technology to take shortcuts and put less effort into their writing, and they’re using these tools to work quickly but carelessly. In the expression of ideas, clarity and accuracy matter—especially in the workplace. Would you want an e-mail, hastily typed on a mobile device and loaded with abbreviations and maybe a few well-placed emoji, to go to an important client? I wouldn’t.

A former colleague often quoted his father, a writer and journalist, as saying, “If you can’t write clearly, you can’t think clearly.” I’m concerned that the next generation of employees is going to struggle to communicate effectively with the written word. Will we as employers need to provide them with additional instruction to help them hone their writing skills?

And don’t forget, this next generation is also one that seems to avoid verbal communication. Have you ever seen two teenagers sitting in the same room, just feet apart, texting back and forth instead of speaking? I have.

I don’t have the answers, and I’m not sure the problem is all that prevalent today. But as I look forward, I can see a time when employers are going to have to spend more time and money to improve the writing skills of the people they hire. It seems to me that not doing so could prove to be even more expensive.

10 thoughts on “Kids’ dwindling writing skills are no reason to LOL”

  1. Dan,
    Your article struck a nerve with me as I have just completed teaching a Junior Achievement program in a local school on Entrepreneurship. The first couple of sessions were a struggle to get input from the students. We were in a room with computers at the desks and every time I asked a question they would all look into their screens and start typing. They tried to Google the answer to each question. It was actually a bit shocking and I eventually convinced the teacher to move all the students to a table with no computers and finally got some interaction. In discussing this with the teacher he said that they were trying to teach the students how to harness the power of the internet. My feeling was that we first need to teach them to harness the power of their brains. I am seeing more and more problems in our school with the one-on-one computer initiatives and with mobile device use. I feel we are indeed handicapping a portion of our young population who cannot avoid the temptation to look to the technology for answers. Like with your texting examples, we are losing as much with the technology as we are gaining. Thanks for a great article Dan.


  2. my generation had WYSIWYG and GIGO as common acronyms. i think these phrases hold true. when the abbreviations make the paper unreadable, unintelligible and uninteresting, what you see was what you got: garbage goes in the brain, garbage comes out the thumbs.
    all this technology encourages fake interaction, breeds ADD and ADHD behavior, and discourages complex thinking and research [does anyone go to the library anymore to flip through the readers guide to periodical literature? does anyone even consider the veracity of sources?]. i’m sharing your article on [gulp!] FB

  3. I’ve definitely noticed a degradation in our language skills in the U.S. For example, no one seems to understand the concept of an adverb. Even our first lady, Michelle Obama, said “I did good in my classes”. I wonder whether the elementary and middle schools are teaching the parts of speech anymore. Perhaps the teachers are saying “Whatever!”

  4. I am in HR, and our managers regularly complain about writing skills (or lack thereof) of their employees. A couple of years ago, we decided to include a written interview in our recruiting process. We still do traditional phone interviews and in-office interviews, but the written interview provides us with the opportunity to see the writing skills of potential new hires. We are small, so we do not have the time or resources to teach someone how to write. So, we are hiring for it now.

  5. This article struck a nerve with me as well. A recent college graduate sent an email to his boss. She showed it to me since she could not understand it. He removed all vowels, no complete sentences, etc…. He texted the email. I suggested she have him rewrite it in full complete sentences.
    I am a HR professional. Work memos, emails, etc… are considered admissible in court. It is embarrassing to read an email written as a text in a deposition.
    Reading, writing, and handwriting must be reintroduced to the classroom.

  6. Preach it, brother. I am in my fifties and I remember well having my papers “corrected” in school for lack of proper grammar, incorrect spelling, improper punctuation, etc. As a result of that correction, I quickly learned to improve my writing skills. Later, I watched my “older children” (30’s now) write papers that I thought were poorly written (in terms of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) and receive good grades on those papers! I now also have younger children (10-14 years old) whose writing skills are even worse and yet they too achieve good grades on those papers. I do believe that teachers have “given up” on trying to correct the kids as it seems like a losing battle. I can’t say as I blame the teachers since we certainly do seem to have a serious trend, and I am afraid that a teacher who might try to correct the kids would be “swimming upstream” and would face much resistance. So what’s to stop the trend? I don’t know. So what’s to help “enforce” the trend? The answer to that is, of course, texting and other cryptic electronic communications.

  7. Love the idea of written interview questions, and I’m guessing FB is an acronym for Facebook. One communication issue I haven’t seen in this thread is the deplorable state of spelling, and that is possibly because it is a cross-generational issue. It was (and is) just as prevalent among boomers and the “greatest generation” as it is among millennials and children in school today. Poor spelling used to be an embarrassment – remember Dan Quayle? Maybe it gets less attention because the meaning of the sentence is usually still recoverable.
    Has anyone under the age of 25 (I’m not) posted a comment?

  8. I totally agree with you Dan. It is shocking to me to see people texting on the streets (they don’t even watch where they are going!), on elevators, even on restaurants while eating with others!!! Technology has in a way pulled people who are (physically) far away closer, but pulled people who are (physically) close apart.
    I’m scared to think of how my daughter’s generation will handle this (she is 4 years old).

  9. What an article! I’ve printed it and all the comments to show my spouse that I’m not alone in my thinking. To think that this new generation will one day be voting and making decisions that could impact how I spend my retirement makes me cringe.

  10. OMG (sorry, couldn’t resist) – This is so true! Poor spelling seems to be a common thread through all the generations, but the under-30 crowd, especially, is losing the ability to think critically, write intelligibly, and interact well with others. It’s a sad state of affairs with no clear solution other than parents taking the primary teaching role and setting strict limits on technology time. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope for that either. Ah well…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *