For Writing Skills 101 – You Might Have to Start with More Reading

This is prompted by a sad, disturbing piece…

My colleague Karl Krayer has a terrific workshop on writing skills.  Companies hire him to teach their employees how to write clear, understandable emails and memos and reports.  (Have you ever had to read, and re-read, and re-read again, an unclear e-mail?)

Sadly, many of them need a lot of help.

Why?  The short answer is this:  good writing comes from lots and lots of reading, spread out over the course of a human life, starting early, and going on as long as possible.  And most people simply have not put in the time to read in order to learn to write clearly.

(I know a man, a wonderful man now in the twilight of his years, who told me in tears that he simply can no longer see the pages.  He is a lifelong reader, and his failing eyesight is his single greatest loss – because of that love of reading).

There is a sad, disturbing piece by an anonymous adjunct professor at the community college level.  I have read the essay, from the June, 2008 AtlanticIn the Basement of the Ivory TowerThe idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why by PROFESSOR X.  And I have read the sample of his book.

Here are a couple of key excerpts in his article:

In each of my courses, we discuss thesis statements and topic sentences, the need for precision in vocabulary, why economy of language is desirable, what constitutes a compelling subject.

My students don’t read much, as a rule, and though I think of them monolithically, they don’t really share a culture. To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope. (And I thought everyone had read that!) Animal Farm? No. If they have read it, they don’t remember it.

Reading simply teaches so much.  Not only does it teach what is found in the content of the writing, but it also teaches how to put thoughts into an understandable order, how to get a message across, how to communicate what is important.  There is no short cut.  Thesis and topic statements, precision in vocabulary, economy of language, compelling subjects – these are modeled, inhaled, and then, with work, learned.

If you need to write better (if your employees need to write better) hire Karl Krayer to help you.

But – you might want to start by reading more.  A lot more.

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(You can contact Karl Krayer, my colleague at the Frist Friday Book Synopsis, on this blog, and in many other ways, through his web site for Creative Communication Network).

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