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.