The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

-Mark Twain

If you would, allow me to speculate a bit.  I’ve been involved in volunteer activities with high school students over the past 2 years so I have become a reluctant texter (is that a word?).  I learned quickly that their preferred method of communication is texting.  I didn’t even have texting on my cell service when I started.  I now have unlimited texting out of necessity.

I tell you this in regards to a concern I see in this younger generation.  I’ve read many pieces about how the younger generation uses text shorthand in formal communications, e.g. cover letters.  That is obviously a great concern.  However, I see a more disconcerting trend – a limited vocabulary.

The modern youth needs to condense their communication into a limited number of characters for texting, Twitter, etc.  An adverse side effect of this constraint is their condensed vocabulary.  Common, monosyllabic words are their preferred lexicon.  The impact is a rather limited vocabulary that is exposed in a long-format writing piece…for instance, an essay.

This limitation is apparent when you work with these teens.  Their word selection (use of adjectives especially), syntax, punctuation and idea structure are lacking.  They have a desire to respond in a succinct manner with common words absent any punctuation beyond a period.  The exploration for new words seems lacking in their approach.  Hence, the wonderful, aforementioned quote from Mark Twain.

I see this subtle regression in writing skills becoming a widespread issue in the next generation of professionals.  The ability to write effectively may be moving onto the endangered skills list right before our eyes.

I mentioned in a previous post about a client who had a salesperson who simply could not convey cogent thoughts through his writing.  The owner paid – paid – for an English tutor to help develop this salesperson’s writing ability.  It was an abject failure and the owner eventually fired the salesperson.  My hope is that this scenario is an uncommon anecdote.

If you know of young people working their way through the education system, encourage them to expand their vocabulary and refine their writing skills.  This much-needed ability will serve them, and us, well as they move into the workforce.

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