Is college students’ refusal to use email killing the next generation of PR writers?

Last week, I came across an interesting article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about college students and their refusal to use email.

The article essentially talked about the trend of college students not using email, professors’ frustrations with said trend, and what it’s meant for students in a variety of situations.

We’ve seen this movie before, right? College and high school kids hate email. They text. They Snapchat. They Twitter. We get it. We know email is passe to that generation. I’ve been beaten over the head with it by now. I’m not here to argue the merits of Millennials fixation with NOT using email.

Student Texting

For me, the article raised a much bigger issue that I thought was worth discussing:

Is college students refusal to use email–and instead focus on texting and social media–killing the next generation of PR writers?

Big issue.

HUGE issue.

And again, not a new issue.

But, I think this is at the crux of it. This millennial and younger generation is the first to essentially grow up using smart phones and social media. There is no benchmark–they ARE the benchmark. So, we’re in unchartered territory here–I get that. But, it seems to me that the reliance on texting (using shorthand) and social (again, shorthand, acronyms, slang) is killing our writers. Just look at a quote from the Strib article:

“I never know what to say in the subject line and how to address the person. Is it mister or professor or comma and return, and do I have to capitalize, and use full sentences? By the time I do all that, I could have an answer by text if I could text them.”

I think my head just exploded.

Now I know this particular quote was chosen for the story because of the outlandish statement made. But, I’m willing to bet that thinking does sum up how some college students think. And that’s a bit concerning.

Yes, you have to use complete sentences in the real world (try writing an email to your CEO once you get a job).

Yes, you have to capitalize. Remember cover letters? The HR industry still uses those. And, they don’t take resumes via text message.

And yes, long-form writing is here to stay. Millennials may change the way we communicate as a society (in many ways, they already have), but there will always be a time and a place for long-form, quality writing, and the thinking that goes along with that. There’s just no way around that fact in my view.

Sick of hearing me rant about this? Let’s hear from a REAL expert–Bill Sledzik, who is hard at work shaping young minds down at Kent St. University. Here’s what Bill had to say when I asked him what this trend will mean for students as they enter the “real world”:

“If you mean the decline of writing skills, it’s a disaster. When students move into a professional arena that demands flawless writing, many can’t perform. That’s why we hammer on the PR students at Kent State that flawless writing is expected. This semester alone I’ve issued 13 F’s on short writing assignments. The message: Improve your writing or find a new major. By the time our PR majors graduate, each of them understands the role of good writing in a successful career – and at least 80% write well.  No program bats 1.000. But I work in journalism school where every instructor is anal about writing, so the standard is far higher than the university as a whole. Writing quality of students from other departments is sometimes scary bad. As a result, these weak writers may face a mound of student debt and few job prospects. Are the students entirely to blame? Or should universities awarding these degrees be held accountable, too?”

So, I’ll ask again: Is students over-reliance on social/texting killing them as writers?

Note: Photo courtesy of PennStatenews via FlickR Creative Commons.

54 comments
Devin Ward
Devin Ward

Being a student at the University of Minnesota, I find this post fascinating. I couldn't agree anymore that the trend of e-mail is starting to change. I can speak for myself and many students, e-mail isn't as reliable as it use to be these days. I think the best example is on the first day of classes one of my professors gave out his personal cell phone number. He said, "I've found over the last year a phone number is more reliable than an e-mail address.." Interesting, huh?

 

I always find this topic slightly odd because how many of us have our e-mail right on our phone? Sending an e-mail on our phone is no different than sending a text, right? They're both done on our phone and sent instantaneously so, what could be the difference?  I'm even guilty of ignoring an e-mail and responding to texts. Unfortunately,  I have no idea what the logic in this is.

 

Currently, I am in a course called, Professional Writing for Strategic Communication. Proof there are still writing classes out there and better yet, required for my degree! Although the class may be hard work, I know it can only benefit me in the future. I have always found myself reading e-mails numerous times before I hit send to make sure I didn't miss any grammar or spelling errors, because in my opinion, e-mails represent who you are professionally. If your e-mail is full of grammatical and spelling errors, who ever the recipient of that e-mail is will take note. Sometimes I think an e-mail etiquette or social media lecture would be a huge benefit for college students. 

 

"Millennials may change the way we communicate as a society (in many ways, they already have), but there will always be a time and a place for long-form, quality writing, and the thinking that goes along with that. There’s just no way around that fact in my view."

 

Awesome point. Thank you for reminding me how important my writing class is to my future and career! 

 

duncancc
duncancc

When I got my first comms job, I hated the managers that hovered over my written word with a red pen - now I do it!

 

Poor writing seems to be endemic but it is here to stay, millennials get used to it!

jaylemeux
jaylemeux

Crux:"By the time I do all that, I could have an answer by text if I could text them."Time to face the facts: We now have a better way than what you grew up with, and you (or The System, which you apparently take for granted) are holding the irrational position. When they use acronyms, they are conveying every bit as much information as you in a quarter of the time. You have to capitalize because you "have to" capitalize, not because capitalizing holds any inherent value. 

StacySimera
StacySimera

Don't tell them to pick a new major, @BillSledzik , because then they'll get me, who will STILL correct their grammar.  I've had students complain:"This is a Substance Abuse [or Poverty, or Human Development, etc] class, not English, so how come you took points off for grammar?"  Um... because you still have to write, whether it is a diagnostic assessment, treatment plan, or a letter to a judge.  Instead refer them back to the remedial writing classes that more and more colleges are offering - even (sadly?, gladly?, obviously neededly) at the graduate level. 

susancellura
susancellura

This is a very upsetting trend. I rank it up there with schools that are going to stop teaching cursive. Really?  I cringe on a regular basis with an intern. I have taken my red pen to her articles many times AND sat down with her to walk her through the WHY, and yet, nothing changes. She wants to be hired on FT, but if she cannot write, how can she handle web sites, brochures, etc.?

jillmkelsey
jillmkelsey

@arikhanson My internal comms team has been discussing this! How does this impact how people consume info or communciate in the workplace?

cmmitchell4
cmmitchell4

Call me a dinosaur @arikhanson but I still put a premium on email and think your piece is on the money.

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

It's funny, I wrote about that same article last week. I think you're absolutely right that the rejection of email has implications for young people's writing skills. But beyond that, it gets to issues of critical thinking, the ability to navigate the social landscape, understanding your status versus others, and so many other things. Don't mean to plug, but here's my take if you're interested: http://www.robbiesenbach.com/dead-or-not-email-makes-you-a-better-writer-and-thinker/

HeatherWhaling
HeatherWhaling

I recently reviewed a lot of resumes and cove letters, mostly from recent grads, for an account coordinator position. I was shocked at the poor writing -- everything from lacking attention to detail, to informality, to very basic (boring) sentence structures. I 100% agree with Bill. If you can't write, pick a new major. I can teach new hires many PR skills, but by the time you graduate college, you need to demonstrate strong writing skills. 

 

During the interview process, I asked people about their writing process and writing experiences. Almost all of the interviewees said they prefer writing for social media and blogs because it's more casual and conversational. While that's true, it's only one type of writing that PR people need to be able to execute. Students can really differentiate themselves if they show an ability to write across various mediums (long and short, various mediums, etc.) 

 

I'm glad you wrote about this. When I speak to students, I'm often asked what the most important skill is. I ALWAYS encourage them to develop their writing skills. Now, I'll start sharing your post with them, too! :)

lisarokusek
lisarokusek

@BillSledzik I think the ability to write well demonstrates an ability to think. The lack is concerning.

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

Oh Arik you are SO right!! When I review my DD13's work - I'm am always asking (well, yelling WHERE ARE THE CAPITALS?????)

BillSledzik
BillSledzik

@arikhanson Writing is a learned skill. World will be a better place if schools and parents focus on it K-12. College isn't 13th grade :-)

jgombita
jgombita

.@BillSledzik and isn't another problem the social media sites and blogs today's students are choosing for "knowledge," esp. suspect ones?

aribadler
aribadler

Writing should be paramount in every course at every level of schooling but hasn't been for years. That is the major problem, not the lack of email use.

TomRBorgman
TomRBorgman

Don't know the answer to this but can't help thinking about the landscape in another 10-20years... when the passage of time starts to embed these folks into said HR, PR and other leadership positions. Since it seems that the population in general will be of the same mind by then, is this question eventually rendered moot? May need to take more seriously the long joked- about evolutionary change in the shape/function of human hands!

bianca101
bianca101

@jentopthat I'm more fearful of the phone than email. Maybe other schools are different, but my UST PR peers were very connected to email.

samarapostuma
samarapostuma

@arikhanson I can't comment at the moment but I would definitely say writing/grammar skills are at a decline bc of this.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @jaylemeux I'm not sure we're quite to that spot yet. I think writing still plays a MAJOR role in the success of any professional PR/communications counselor. Text messages don't rule the world just yet, sir :)

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @StacySimera  @BillSledzik Exactly right. What these kids forget is that writing skills permeate into every part of your life--not just your professional life. Like you said, a letter to a judge, a note to your kids' teacher, you name it. Good writing still counts for an awful lot. Sorry to break that to you Millennials...

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @susancellura And that sums it up exactly. Some would argue when these kids are in power, things will be different. But, the fact remains they are not in power positions just yet (largely at least). And, largely the world still operates using the rules of proper grammar and writing style. You want a job? Learn how to write.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@jillmkelsey I've read a lot lately about how orgs are treating millennials differently when communicating with them...

arikhanson
arikhanson

@cmmitchell4 I'm not sure you're a dinosaur, Chad. I feel the same way. But writing skills seem to on the decline...

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @HeatherWhaling What's even more disturbing is the folks who come back and say they can communicate better using shorthand/texts/etc. Basically, "We don't need to learn to write well--we communicate just fine using the way we learned." Unless you live in a bubble, that approach won't get you too far...

BillSledzik
BillSledzik

@jgombita You are 100% correct. Half of the PR folks in the social space are doing only marketing. Not schooled in PR at all.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @aribadler But the focus on texting, Twitter, FB, Snapchat may be contributing to that, no?

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @TomRBorgman See, others have made that point, too.We will adapt to them eventually--or, we'll HAVE to adapt to them. Not completely out of the realm of possibility. But, my big issue is this: Good writing will never go out of style (and the thinking that goes with it). It's more about the skill, learning to harness the skill and all that goes into it than it is the use of one particular medium.

jentopthat
jentopthat

@bianca101 It's shocking. I read the original article. Just craziness. Although, have noticed a lot of younger gen writing is subpar.

jillmkelsey
jillmkelsey

@arikhanson Agreed, I think we need to consider all audiences when communicating. Makes for more work, but better results.

cmmitchell4
cmmitchell4

@arikhanson I agree with you Arik - it's becoming a lost art form for sure. Have a good day.

jgombita
jgombita

In thinking stage of my OpEd for a uni journal @BillSledzik. I think PR needs to reclaim its rightful place/role in SoMe stolen by marketing

aribadler
aribadler

@arikhanson Not necessarily. I write very differently for social media and texting, a different way for emails and yet a different way for correspondence, press releases, briefing papers, etc. My point was that it's not the medium that affects my ability to write, it's the teachers that taught me how to write properly that matters. They gave me the ability to adjust my writing to the proper form for the proper context. But if writing as an artform isn't seen as important anymore, that's where the problem develops. I just don't want people to misdiagnose what's happening and blame the delivery method for the lack of training on how to produce good content, regardless of how it's delivered.

TomRBorgman
TomRBorgman

 @arikhanson  Totally agree with that Arik. Didn't mean to obscure that with the bit of humor! If the question is "is the scale behind the systems that feed capable PR, writer types shrinking fast due to techno-culture" and, the answer is yes...then those next gen-ers that "get this" and are smart enough to embrace the education,workplace training and experiences needed to harness said skills, seem destined to be true stand outs!

bianca101
bianca101

@jentopthat definitely. Shorthand leads to downfall. Plus the reliance on Microsoft word to catch mistakes doesn't help either

arikhanson
arikhanson

@jillmkelsey I kinda feel like some orgs are coddling the Millennials a bit. I get it--they're a big deal, but c'mon now...