Poor Writing Costs Taxpayers Millions

Poor Writing Costs Taxpayers Millions (AP)

States spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars a year on remedial writing instruction for their employees, according to a new report that says the indirect costs of sloppy writing probably hurt taxpayers even more.

The National Commission on Writing, in a report to be released Tuesday, says that good writing skills are at least as important in the public sector as in private industry. Poor writing not only befuddles citizens but also slows down the government as bureaucrats struggle with unclear instructions or have to redo poorly written work.

“It’s impossible to calculate the ultimate cost of lost productivity because people have to read things two and three times,” said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, vice chairman of the National Governors Association, which conducted the survey for the commission.


In a conference call interview last week, Kerrey, Huckabee, and Gaston Caperton — a former West Virginia governor who now leads the College Board — said many of the costs when state employees cannot express themselves clearly are hard to pin down. E-mail, which is so easy that workers can fire something off without thinking it through, may compound the problem.

“Increasingly as more things are done electronically, or via e-mail or blackberry, I think we tend to almost get even more sloppy,” Huckabee said. “The truth is we need to get clear and concise. That adds to productivity.”

Another hidden cost is that good ideas may never see the light of day. “I see that all the time in writing and political speaking,” Huckabee said. “There are some really bright people who can’t communicate and as a result their ideas probably aren’t given the attention they deserve.”

Given that most of the people in question are college graduates, it’s especially depressing. Unfortunately, it’s not at all difficult to earn a college diploma without the ability to write a coherent essay.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    “There are some really bright people who can’t communicate and as a result their ideas probably aren’t given the attention they deserve.”

    What are they, autistic? As a general rule, clarity of expression indicates clarity of thought.


  2. herb says:

    Just one more example of the colleges and universities marketing campaign to sell their schools and degrees to government and business while turning out a whole load of idiots that can’t read, spell, perform simple math and write anything that one can comprehend.

    Isn’t our education system great today ????


  3. Iceman 1955 says:

    But at least they feel good about themselves and have high self esteem. After all doesn’t that mean more than good reading, spelling or math skills? I mean for $25,000 a year you cant expect everything…