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USF Sarasota-Manatee researchers study how to improve workplace writing

By: John Dudley

Posted: July 18, 2019

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Dr. Wilma Davidson

SARASOTA, Fla. (July 18, 2019) – Millennials hold a slightly higher opinion of their writing ability than do older working professionals, although fewer than half of all workplace writers believe they write well, according to surveys by Wilma Davidson, EdD, and two colleagues at USF Sarasota-Manatee.

Davidson and her fellow researchers suggest the solution might lie in giving high school teachers dedicated training to teach writing more effectively.

The findings of two surveys – one conducted in 2014 and published in Writing Commons and a follow-up in 2018 appearing in the July issue of Training magazine – are part of an article written by Davidson and Tod Roberts, both professional and technical communication instructors, and Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness Laura Hoffman.

    Prof. Tod Roberts

Half of workers from a variety of industries at all levels of management reported that they believed their college writing instruction was adequate, but only about one-quarter felt the same way about their high-school writing preparation.

Those responses identify “a need for improvement in writing instruction that will reverse the well-documented and dismaying decline in writing skills – in both academic settings and corporate offices,” Davidson wrote.

In a follow-up interview, she added, “As a corporate communications coach, I’ve often been asked ‘Why can’t Johnny or Jane write? What can you do to fix it?’ Thus, this survey and previous ones were created to discover what adult business writers think and do when they write and what their actual writing demonstrates. I’ve spent the majority of my career seeking the answer to why many adults in the workplace don’t write well.”

Among the contributing factors Davidson and her colleagues cite are a lack of formal preparation for high school writing teachers, a lack of confidence in their abilities to teach writing, and an absence of instruction focusing on business and corporate writing as opposed to creative writing, literature, film and journalism.

“We’d like to see high school English curriculum and teacher-preparation curriculum revisited. When 75 percent of those surveyed claim that their high school writing preparation was inadequate, and their writing demonstrates this fact, we need to take heed.”

Roberts added: “This study showed that teachers at all levels can also benefit from this knowledge to design and deliver effective learning that matches up with career needs after graduation.”

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