The writing skills needed for the workplace

It comes as no surprise that employers are hard pressed to find workers who can effectively communicate (“What Skills Do Students Really Need for Work? Education Week, Sep.26).   I say that because I taught English for 28 years in the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  During that time, I saw the disconnect between the kind of writing curricular guides required and what I knew the workplace demanded.

I have nothing against creative writing.  But I question if the skills required are transferable.  Employers need workers who can clearly and succinctly express themselves.  I seriously doubt that courses in creative writing will provide students with that wherewithal.

Journalists are criticized for being mental lightweights.  But they are successful in making sense of even the most arcane subject.  I attribute their ability to do so by having their writing scrutinized by their editors.  When I was working on my M.S. in journalism from UCLA, I learned how to take even the most complex subject and make sense of it for readers through constant practice followed by immediate feedback.

Creative writing certainly has its place.  But if the goal is to prepare students for the job market, it will not be seen as an asset.

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4 Replies to “The writing skills needed for the workplace”

  1. Completely agree that writing to inform or persuade — as opposed to creative writing to entertain — is what should primarily be taught in K-12. This is the kind of writing that people need to do on the job and in their personal lives — i.e., letters to customer service, job applications, college applications, medical histories, PTA presentations, letters to the editor, comments on FB or media websites.

    Equally important — done well, writing to inform or persuade requires logical thinking/analysis. Teaching the mechanics of writing to inform/persuade involves mostly teaching the mechanics of outlining. Outlining, in turn, is really just another term for logical analysis of an issue. Logical analysis/thinking is arguably the single most critical skill required in the modern economy and modern society. Seems to me that K-12 curricula focus far too much on teaching knowledge and far too little on teaching logical analysis/thinking. Everyone has their own special — often then unappreciated — teacher. Mine is my 7th grade English teacher who spent much of the year emphasizing what she called paragraph structure (within a single paragraph and of paragraphs within a longer document) but what I now realize looking back was actually logical thinking — that is, breaking down an issue into a topic, supporting points, contrary arguments, points refuting the contrary arguments, and a conclusion. More useful to a future attorney than what Harvard Law taught in its first-year writing course.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: The ability to express oneself clearly in writing is a skill that can be taught by constant practice and immediate feedback. I don’t think that creative writing can be taught because it is by its very nature so individual. While working on my M.S. in journalism at UCLA, I studied under experienced professors who had worked in journalism before moving on to the university. I’m forever grateful to them for what they taught me.

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  3. I think the “WORKPLACE” has to be defined.
    Do you think a plumber has to write an essay during a job interview?
    My sister is a retired law professor who found that the majority of first year law students could not write a paragraph with complete sentences.

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