Why can’t college graduates write coherent prose?

By Jeffrey J. Selingo for the Washington Post

A few months ago I was having breakfast in downtown Washington. I couldn’t help but overhear a casual job interview happening at the table next to me. The interviewer owned a government contracting business and was looking to hire a person to help write proposals to federal agencies.

Near the end of the conversation, the interviewer complained about how difficult it is to find good writers these days. The two men talked about their college experiences and how they learned to write.

“I was a math major,” the interviewer said, “but the biggest differentiator in business now is good writing.”

He’s not alone in his opinion. According to national surveys, employers want to hire college graduates who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data. But the Conference Board has found in its surveys of corporate hiring leaders that writing skill is one of the biggest gaps in workplace readiness.

That’s why so many employers now explicitly ask for writing and communications skills in their job advertisements. An analysis by Burning Glass Technologies, which studies job trends in real time by mining data from employment ads, found that writing and communications are the most requested job requirements across nearly every industry, even fields such as information technology and engineering.

“My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it,” Joseph R. Teller, an English professor at College of the Sequoias, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall. “In 10 years of teaching writing, I have experimented with different assignments, activities, readings, approaches to commenting on student work — you name it — all to help students write coherent prose that someone would actually want to read. And as anyone who keeps up with trends in higher education knows, such efforts largely fail.”

Read more here.

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