WSJ: Business (and Tech) Grads “Struggle for Written Words”

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Diana Middleton writes about a trend in M.B.A. programs to rev up students’ writing skills by hiring special coaches.

Successful written communication is hard to quantify, although readers know it when they see it.  According to one measure, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) essay, scores dropped significantly in the past three years.

Several forces feed into this decline, including the fact that more often than not, graduate students are likely to be non-native English speakers.  But the underlying problem is that written communication, even in the conservative world of business, is changing.

The incredible shrinking attention span

Texting and tweeting have replaced phone calls and blogging, which formerly replaced snail-mailed typewritten letters and boardroom meetings.

The information overload and time crunch in the commercial world mean that traditional white papers, once stock in trade tools for business and technical marketing, just take too long for busy executives to read.

According to Jonathan Kantor, host of the White Paper Pundit blog, people’s shorter attention spans require that white paper writers must turn from text-heavy pages to more graphics and well-crafted summaries, in order to fully connect with prospects.

Without these, overworked executives skim a white paper without ever reaching the point of commitment to reading it in detail.  This makes the likelihood of taking action on its messages very low.

Putting readers to sleep

But back to the M.B.A. students. Middleton says their writing includes incomplete sentences, has trouble getting to the point, and puts readers to sleep.

Chances are, the newly minted graduates were never that good at writing in the first place.  No matter how much coaching, mentoring and practice they get, they may never improve at communicating their ideas, calculations and/or results, in a way that grabs the eyeballs of decision makers.

And unless you hold the reader’s attention, he or she can’t properly evaluate the featured product or service.

Enter the freelance technical copywriter, who acts as an interpreter, speaking both the language of the customer and that of the technical or business specialist.

So, should tech and business grads be expected to write well, too?

Please contact me for help writing technical articles and blog posts for your organization. Thank you!