I came to the conclusion long ago that writing is becoming, unfortunately, a lost art/craft. Finding good writers is very hard. I’ve always thought it’s because our schools don’t focus anymore on the three R’s (readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic) like when “I was a kid.” There’s a piece in the New York Times today -- http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-english-major.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
– written by someone who’s been a college professor and laments, in the article, the loss of humanities majors as young folks focus on majors more likely to pay off quickly in a job to pay their bills and make their parents proud (both excellent goals).
You can read the piece, of course, on your own but one of the points is that there are fewer humanities majors than 20 years ago. For example at Yale University there were 165 English Lit graduates in 1991. In 2012, there were 62.
Some folks these days (and in older days, I think it’s just much more prevalent now) think good writing is using words you don’t use in every day conversation The author of the column – Verlyn Klinkenborg, a Times ed board member, author and college professor – says that in his experience, “Whenever I teach older students …I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit….”
A former boss of mine, the late Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige – who was an English major at Yale many years ago – used to ask people who work for him to write somewhere between, Hemingway and Zane Grey, the author of untold Westerns, written in plain English. When I was a reporter, folks used to say they liked my articles because, “you write like you talk.” Great literature, no, but I guess I could communicate through writing.
Writing hits everything you do whether you are working in a career focused on writing or not – you have to communicate in writing be that via memos, emails, or whatever. And, it’s not just the skill of writing; it’s how writing something down focuses you on explaining and organizing your thoughts. It forces you to think about what you want to say and, then, how to say it. Being a good writer also can organize how you speak, to explain things.
I am not a grammarian. I don’t know how to use commas properly, for example; or when to use a semi-colon, so I don’t know if I just used it correctly or not. I was educated long before computers and spell-check took over society. Spell-check is nice, but it’s not always correct. There’s an old-fashioned device that can help. It’s called the dictionary.
And, since I’m not a grammarian, I have had a copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” on my desk for reference for about 40 years – yes, the same copy I bought 40 years ago. Despite what the current generation tells you (whichever current generation over time), English doesn’t change all that much.