The age of technology has both revived the use of writing and provided even more reasons for its spiritual solace. E-mails are letters, after all, more lasting than phone calls, even if many of them r 2 cursory for u.—Anna Quindlen
Texts. Tweets. Twitter. Blogs. YouTube. Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Yelp, LinkedIn—just for starters. New Internet possibilities for communicating emerge almost daily. And while phone, in-person conversations, Keynote, PowerPoint, InDesign, Camtasia, Skype, in-store signage, and even highway billboards remain staple “older media,” newer social media seduce us to engage appropriately—and not—with friends, colleagues, customers, and the cosmos—or at least the Twitterverse.
As with anything considered newfangled and possibly generational, questions emerge: Are these forms of communication good etiquette and professional? Do they have a proper place in business writing? Is a 140-character tweet really writing? If you already are a social media junkie—or aspire to be one—read this discussion before sending your next text.
Experts on both sides of these questions debate the cause of declining writing skills of those entering and those already in the workplace—and several are quick to blame this generation’s shift to social media. Such guardians of the English language claim that Millennials have their own meta-language in texts and tweets that is destroying “good” (aka “acceptable”) writing.
There is no cause and effect here. For centuries, the older generation has faulted the younger for its careless ways. The 15th century classical scholar, Erasmus, told young men, “No fidgeting, no scratching.” LOL!
In the 1970s, it was felt we were spawning a generation of semi-literates. In the 1980s, experts exclaimed, “Johnny Can’t Write.” And today, there is reason to believe that college students still do not know how to write or spell. R U kidding me? 4 sure, I m not.
Certainly, these claims have some merit. But my point is that claims about “kids today” not being able to write a sentence preceded the advent of social media. Yes, texting has its own kind of grammar that includes shortcuts and homophones, and deletes nonessential letters. For good reason.
It is tailored to the immediacy of a moment—a work in progress. Mobile, quick, casual. Meant to be read once. Long B 4 U heard complaints about the continuing decline of writing and spelling due to the use of homophones, we rarely heard complaints about ASAP or ERBITA, which are universally accepted in business and accounting correspondence. I wonder how long it took for those abbreviations to become accepted?
What good can be said about social media and the shortcuts in spelling and grammar it invites? First, mobile devices have become legitimate platforms for leveraging writing. For businesses with limited budgets, social media is a must. It invites collaboration and interaction between customers and companies. Thus, more people than ever can communicate with one another. That’s good practice. (You learn to write by writing!) Texting and being limited to 140 characters force compressed writing, and that 140-character Twitter challenge can help people learn to make their point quickly. That’s good practice, too. Take for example the text, “Decision made. Client 2 sign contract.”
While everyone is writing more, some argue that people are saying less. However, while this generational shift in habits—this shorthand created for the sake of sending instant messages—may appear suspect, it does have a place in the workplace. Texting feeds workplace writing. It is so easy that it can fight online procrastination.
If you are still thinking, “WTF”? Let me explain further.
In the workplace, “C U latr” is not professional in a client or customer e-mail, but in an instant text message to another teammate on the same conference call as you with a client—“L”—can telegraph what you are thinking in a nanosecond. And that may be just enough of an instant message during that call to help you both turn the direction of the call around.
During times when expediency outweighs formality (and when using keyboards with ever-diminishing footprints), abbreviations work. Similar to invented spellings that youngsters learning to write are encouraged to use, employing invented abbreviations won’t hinder you from getting the thought out in an instant message.
Interestingly, while critics of “new media” claim writers are getting dumber, writers on Twitter, for example, notice mistakes and “go viral” with them. Here’s evidence that while some don’t know the rules, others are quick to point them out.
Sure, we find less credible the person who can’t master sixth grade spelling on a personal social media site. But no real harm done as long as workplace writers recognize that in all professional documentation, they need to lose the abbreviated structures and spelling errors in favor of what’s correct. No harm done if they tweet to socialize, announce, or broadcast to friends. They can write and publish at their own risk. But if they do the same in business situations—that is, if they don’t edit before they publish—then they do so at the risk of harming their reputation, just as this grocery store did when it used “old media” signage that read “Please don’t brake the egg cartons in half.”
The moral of the social media tale in the workplace? No matter what we write, we can write comfortably, informally, but not carelessly. We need to remember that people beyond our original audience can easily view what we’ve written. And let us know what they think about it—and us—as happened in the exchange between Natalie, Kristin, Greg, and Jesse.
Excerpt from “Business Writing: What Works, What Won’t” by Wilma Davidson (St. Martin’s Griffin, December 2015). For more information, visit:
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-writing-wilma-davidson/1116856330?ean=9781250075499&quickview=true
Wilma Davidson, Ed.D., is a veteran business writing and presentation skills coach whose clients include major corporations. A university instructor as well, her students are upper-level business and technical communication majors.