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Eschew obfuscation!

Eschew Obfuscation!

Three hundred years ago Francis Bacon observed that "reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." This is no less true today than it was three centuries ago. However, in this information age most of us receive our information through television, radio, computers, facsimile machines, and telephones. While these technological wonders make for extremely rapid communication, they also contribute to a deterioration of cognitive development.

Through its advisory councils, the American Management Association conducted a study on public education. Virtually every respondent mentioned deficiencies in English and math among new hires. Some of the comments included "lack of communication skills - reading, listening, writing, and speaking" and "Language and communication skills are miserable. Basic grammar and syntax are abysmal."

The entire responsibility for this condition cannot be placed on the school system. But schools - both primary and secondary - share the blame for the creation of the problem as does the world of advertising, which bombards us with catchy grammar and newly minted words and spellings, and government officials whose careers seem to hinge on the ability to talk a great deal while providing very little information.

A good part of the problem must be laid at the feet of parents, teachers, managers, and other educated people who accept fuzzy expressions and lazy thinking. Our language is really a subtle yet precise device that helps us convey our thoughts and desires.

The young men and women who graduate today with degrees in accounting, engineering, mathematics, or any other specialty often feel that the ability to write, spell, or use grammar properly is not necessary. Writing, the argument goes, is for journalists and English majors.

Why use at this point in time when you mean now? Using five words to replace one is, I would think, not what Bacon meant when he said writing makes an exact man. I am not against linguistic change - change is what keeps the language alive and colorful. However, before a person can be an innovator, he or she should know the basic rules.

When you broach the subject of language and grammar with someone whose communications skills need improvement, you may be told, "What difference does it make as long as people understand me?" Communication, both oral and written, conveys a great deal about the speaker or writer as well as provides information. The way a person writes or speaks - the choice of words, the style - makes a statement. The audience makes a judgment about the person based on what is heard or what is read. When a problem can be clearly presented, then the presenter is believed to clearly understand it.

Clarity of writing is extremely important in business, where managers are inundated with memos, letters, and reports. Yet many managers cling to the belief that as long as their writing is understandable, it is sufficient. This belief often leads to miscommunication and wasted time. Some corporations have begun to recognize this problem and are attempting to teach managers proper English usage.

In an issue of Supervisory Management, author Rosalind Gold gives a perfect example of obtuse communication. Take her example of a notice that appeared on a corporate bulletin board: "Employees impacted by the strike are encouraged to utilize the hot line number to arrange for alternative transportation to work. Should you encounter any difficulties in arranging for alternative transportation to work, please contact your immediate supervisor." Gold notes that it would have been much simpler to write, "If you can't get to work, call the hot line or your supervisor."

Fuzzy communication is far more than just a bother to read and understand. With corporations fighting both domestic and foreign competitors for a market share, miscommunication hurts productivity. In his book Executive Guide to Grammar, Albert Joseph observes that "language is both a tool and a weapon. Those who can use this gift effectively have a powerful advantage. They can persuade others, they can cause things to happen."

We as managers and professionals need to do what we can to help ourselves and those around us strive for clarity of thought. We can no longer afford the attitude of the jaded English professor who, when asked "Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy?" replied, "I don't know, and I don't care." We are in a fight for our economic lives, and communicating with smoke signals does not help the cause.

Thomas R. Horton is chairman and chief executive officer of the American Management Association in New York, NY.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:importance of good writing & communication skills
Author:Horton, Thomas R.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Why the temptation?
Next Article:Renaissance manager.

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