Monday, January 29, 2007

Writing Logically and Intelligently

There is a dramatic difference between business writing, which is generally formal, and informal communication. It's often important to know when one mode or the other is the more appropriate. It's exceedingly important to know which mode to use if you're an MBA student.

As part of his interviews with M.B.A. students, Darren Whissen, a financial-services recruiter in California, provides an executive summary of a fictitious company and asks them to write about 500 words recommending whether to invest in the business. At worst, he receives "sub-seventh-grade-level" responses with spelling and grammar errors. "More often than not," he says, "I find M.B.A. writing samples have a casual tone lacking the professionalism necessary to communicate with sophisticated investors. I have found that many seemingly qualified candidates are unable to write even the simplest of arguments. No matter how strong one's financial model is, if one cannot write a logical, compelling story, then investors are going to look elsewhere. And in my business, that means death...

I've also seen other recent articles in the business media complaining about the lack of articulateness of college graduates, including MBAs. It's been suggested that MBA programs need to pay more attention to teaching effective writing.

Seems to me that an MBA program is way too late to be worrying about teaching effective writing, which should be learned at the undergraduate level if not in high school. So should at least the basics of effective presentation. How about making sure that these attributes are present to a reasonable degree before someone is admitted to an MBA program?

Before being admitted? Really?


Good thing I'm not submitting this particular post to a journal for publication!


La Maestra said...

I'm not at all surprised. I just hope that there aren't more fingers pointed at failing schools and problem teachers, but rather at the kids and their parents.

I have two "college-prep" freshmen English classes this year. Last semester just ended on Friday, and I posted final grades today. Of my 40 students combined (LOVE freshman class size reduction!) I had eight turn in final papers. They've had the entire quarter to do them, and I've given them class time and guidance and chances for revision, but somehow 80% of my students just didn't bother to submit a final draft.

Final combined "college-prep" grade count? 4 As, 5 Bs, 3 Cs, 16 Ds, and 12 Fs. 70% of my "college-prep" kids did not earn a first-semester grade that will get them accepted to a university.

Fortunately counseling tends to lag in sending out grades, so I likely won't have to deal with a barrage of suddenly concerned parent phone calls until late next week. (Not that I mind talking to parents, but a week into the new semester is too late to worry about what Johnny didn't do last October.)

Anonymous said...

It's an across the board situation. I end up with many freshmen and I honestly don't know what they are thinking. They don't turn in work and are shocked, SHOCKED, that they have failing grades. I think they assume I use the stairstep method of grading wherein I throw art projects down the stairwell and those that make it to the bottom get an A. And their parents all too often are EXACTLY LIKE THEM. I have a parent's information sheet that lists supplies and expectations which students must have parents sign. Less that 50% do. And when I contact them via phone, when I can find a working phone number, they too are shocked, SHOCKED, that I really meant it when I said I wanted the papers signed and returned. I guarantee any form sent home by a coach made it back to school pronto.

Mike said...

As a high school teacher of writing, I may be able to provide a bit of insight here. I must agree with the previous posters. A large part of the problem is that our society seems to have forgotten, if it ever knew, that education is not software that is installed at a single sitting. Students cannot merely sit through 12 years of schooling, doing work when it pleases them, or merely enough work to avoid utter failure, and expect themselves to have more than basic skillls and knowledge.

Education is a hard-fought, life long individual battle for new and constantly upgraded skills and knowledge. Ultimately, it is about building bigger and better brains, and it is the daily practice and application of new ideas and processes that is the builder. If the individual doesn't realize this, and if they do not accept that they are ultimately responsible for their education, is it any wonder that we see, all too often, such poor results?

Mandatory high stakes testing also plays its role in the dumbing down of writing skills. In Texas, our English testing is organized so that students must do some analysis of writing, some editing, and some essay writing in response to a prompt. But because writing is very difficult to grade, particularly in the assembly line fashion that must pertain to such statewide endeavors, a very simplistic formula must be applied.

What does the state, in its wisdom, demand? Students must write in first person, must tell a story--the more weepy and tear-jerking the better--and should sterotypically identify themselves as male or female. Thus I spend a month or more a year teaching kids very specific test taking skills--tricks, actually--that will do little to assist them in building those bigger, better brains. In fact, after the test, I must tell that that the methods they've learned apply to the test only, and that should they write that way in class, or God forbid, in college, they'll fail badly.

This is only part of the tragic legacy of high stakes testing, but that's a topic for another book.

Ellen K also brings up an interesting point. Judging by the utter lack of parental contact I routinely have, I suspect most of my children were hatched in test tubes. Each year, for what is essentially a homeroom class, I send out an individualized letter to all of the parents with a self addressed, stamped return letter asking them to give me, in a sentence or two, their goals for their child's academic performance that year. I even include a form with a multitude of possible responses requiring no more than a simple check next to those they like. This year: three were returned. It has been worse, and very rarely better, in the past, and has never been greater than five responses out of 25 kids.

But then again, we've convinced ourselves that anyone can and should go to college and made that possible in all kinds of ways. And we're surprised that many aren't prepared? But that's another book...

Anonymous said...

I'm not a teacher or a parent, but I read a lot of education blogs. And the things I read are changing me from a skeptic about public education to an avowed enemy of it.

In general, people don't value what they get for free. Sure, some parents who pay for private schools also remain uninvolved in their children's education, but it's less likely. The real problem is with parents of public-schooled children who think it's the schools' job to do everything.

I've never understood why public schools do not demand parental involvement and simply boot the kids whose parents won't do what they're supposed to. Oh, I know - everyone's supposed to be entitled to a publicly funded education - no matter how disruptive they are, no matter how little work they do, no matter how little their parents contribute. Maybe it's time to dump that idea.

And if the public schools won't demand more from parents, then don't force me pay for them with my taxes.

Darren said...

The same can be said for many socialist practices.

Anonymous said...

Well, sure. I don't want to pay for those, either!

Mike said...

I'm afraid anonymous is incorrect: public education is not obtained without cost. True, student's don't have to daily pony up admisison fees to enter their schools, but the public pays a heavy tax burden to support the schools.

Our school problems are primarily cultural.

Anonymous said...

I made it quite clear that I'm aware of the tax burden by saying that I don't like having to pay for it myself. That's how I pay for it, as a non-parent: with my taxes.

That said, it's equally obvious that parents who pay several thousand dollars a year to send their children to a private school - in addition to supporting public schools with their taxes - put more of their money into their children's education than parents with children in public schools.