Poor Writing Costs Taxpayers Millions
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 Ã¢€” a former West Virginia governor who now leads the College Board Ã¢€” 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.