Why learning to write well matters.

There is a policy in my classroom that requests submitted in writing receive greater consideration than those that are not. Also, the quality of the writing has a direct impact on the likelihood of a request being granted. As a result, I receive some very serious letters from very serious students with very serious requests, and in most cases, I try to at least meet these students halfway.

I have adopted this policy for several reasons, but primarily, I want my students to understand that regardless of the future that they envision for themselves, they will need to be able to write effectively, and that writing effectively can be a tremendous asset to a person regardless of his or her career choice.

Conversely, the inability to write effectively can be a great determent to a person and his or her career.

Case in point:

Here is a response that my wife received from a local museum that recently changed its policy in regards to member benefits.


Mrs. Dicks,

My apologies for the email response to your phone call. As you can imagine, you’re not the only member with questions, and responding by email gives me the opportunity to give you more details.

Of all the problems with this response, this paragraph annoys me the most because it makes no sense. Why is responding via email any more conducive to providing a customer with details than a phone conversation? Is the writer implying that the mere act of writing confers special powers of information dissemination that a phone call cannot?

Thank your for valuing your membership with The Children’s Museum, apart from of the additional benefits.  We will automatically place you in our new membership program, at the level for your family size (the Scientist $125 level), and send a new card and materials in approximate six weeks.  In the meantime, you can use your current card to visit the museum.  We are also adding a benefit package of vouchers and discounts with the new membership program, a $35 value which is the same amount you paid for the Plus upgrade.  I would be happy to send that to you, if you like.

I had to read this paragraph three times in order to understand what was being said, and I’m still not entirely sure. There are obvious problems with the words your and approximate (which I have highlighted), and I am not sure what “apart from of the additional benefits” is supposed to mean, even if I remove the word of. It makes no sense. Regardless, three typos in a single paragraph is not acceptable.

You can still use the reciprocal admission at science centers and museums that participate in the ASTC program. (As always, call ahead if you are visiting an organization within 90 miles of The Children’s Museum, to see if they will accept your membership.) We are enforcing the 90 mile rule, which, for the most part, we hadn’t previously, but the decision on whether or not to enforce the rule is optional, and it is made by each organization.

I’m not a fan of the clunky way that the writer uses parenthesis when they really aren’t necessary, but it’s the last sentence that is the worst.  It contains a total of 35 words and five commas. FIVE.

We understand the confusion and concern this is causing, but it was a necessary financial decision, and one that was made very recently.

I have more confusion and concern over the quality of the writing in this email than any change made to the museum’s benefit package. If the museum is actually receiving as many inquires in regards to this policy change as they claim (and I believe they probably are, since the changes are considerable), you would expect them to have some kind of form letter ready that could be tweaked if needed. Or even better, perhaps someone with a modicum of writing ability could be placed in charge of responding to the flurry of inquiries that this change has generated, because this response is unprofessional and reprehensible.

I’ll be showing it to my students next week.  They’ll do a little editing and hopefully receive some reinforcement regarding the importance of writing well.