Two examples:
1. This morning, a colleague lamented that although he was grateful to see a glowing write-up about his firm in a national (Canadian) newspaper, he was disappointed by the grammatical and spelling errors in the article.
2. Last weekend, while reading the Toronto Star, I gritted my teeth at this headline on page 4 of the “Condo Living” section: Mixing and matching adds flare.

OK, so the person who wrote the head doesn’t know the difference between flare and flair. Then I turned to page 11, only to find this headline: Creative suite boasts artistic flair. So, seven pages apart: the wrong and then the right word.

These examples seem picky, but they are symptomatic of an epidemic of sloppy writing that is plaguing North America. I’m concerned, because this is the wrong time to be communicating poorly. Indeed, a recent study by the National Commission on Writing in the U.S. concluded that “the need to write clearly and quickly has never been more important than in today’s highly competitive, technology-driven global economy.” At the same time, their survey of blue-chip companies found that more than 40% of responding firms offer or require training for salaried employees with writing deficiencies. The Commission estimates that remedying deficiencies in writing costs American corporations as much as $3.1 billion annually. YIKES. And that doesn’t even include the editors of the Toronto Star!

In my writing workshops, I see white-collar employees who don’t know the difference between a comma and a semicolon and who can’t distinguish between it’s and its. When it comes to organizing and writing a clear, simple memo, they’re lost.

What’s the answer? In the long term, I believe that parents and school systems need to instill a love of writing and reading in children. (Reading is essential because strong readers make strong writers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my two book-loving kids write beautifully.) In the short term, organizations will continue to rely on professional editors to get their documents up to speed. They’ll also need to send employees to writing workshops to hone the skills they haven’t picked up in school or at home.

I guess I shouldn’t complain, since I earn a chunk of my income from editing and rewriting the words of others, and from teaching people to write. However, I don’t derive joy from the prospect of living in an illiterate world.


  1. You make a lot of excellent points here, Donna.

    I know of a new publication that made a huge splash recently. Its target readers were so used to reading error-ridden drivel that they were shocked to encounter a publication that views editing and proofreading as essential steps in the editorial process. The publication is doing extremely well — attracting both large numbers of readers and top-tier advertising clients.


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