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Generation Y’s Writing Quality and its Effect on the Communications Industry Featured

From the blog of Thomas Moylan, Advice Unlimited's Social Media Specialist.


There is a lot of talk about Generation Y and the quality of their writing skills. The talk is mostly bad.  Teachers and business organizations claim that the writing skills of young adults today have significantly deteriorated from previous generations. The claim is that technology and a fast-paced lifestyle in the United States is to blame.  Spellcheck and other programs on the computer will fix small and potentially embarrassing spelling and grammatical errors, allowing students to rely on the technology and not their own knowledge of the English language when proofreading their work.  Fast-paced life in the United States has also been blamed, with many stating that young adults have shorter attention spans and are less interested in fully analyzing and creating in depth writing explanations.  Is this true?  What kind of impact does this have on the communications industry?  It is important to look at both sides of the argument before drawing a conclusion.


In my analysis of the situation, I found that there has indeed been some decline in writing quality from Generation Y.  If there was no decline in the writing ability of young adults today, there wouldn’t be so many articles and blogs discussing the issue. I can also say that as a recent college graduate from a top level University, I was astonished at the  poor quality of some people’s writing skills, which I discovered during peer review exercises  in my freshman, sophomore, junior and even senior-level writing courses.  Some were very good, but there were some that made me think, “How did this person get admitted to this University?” There were grammatical errors, run-on sentences that looked like paragraphs, paragraphs that were over a page long and quite frankly, writing that made no sense at all.


Teachers in a recent Pew research study are agreeing with the noted decline in writing quality, as one experienced English teacher states that she “teaches accelerated students, but has noted a marked decline in the depth and analysis of their written work.” The teachers surveyed claimed that their students don’t understand how to pull useful information from their research to put into their writing, resulting in surface content that is useless.  


Something I found interesting while doing research on this topic is that Generation Y writes more than any previous generation.  However, the style of writing they are doing has changed.  I discovered that while this group might not be writing essays or novels, they are great at writing in social media form and blog posts, and they do it all the time.  In a 2009 article by Kaila Krayewski, a writer for, she states, “Ninety percent of Gen Yers in the US own a PC, while 82 percent own a mobile. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they spend more time online than they do watching TV.”  According to a 2012 Forrester survey, the percentage of Generation Y that owns a mobile has skyrocketed to 97% -- Generation Y is also far more likely than any other age category to own a Smartphone.   It’s quite common for Generation Y to prefer to do their social media writing directly from their Smartphone, rather than using a PC.


Contrary to some opinions, there is evidence that Gen Y frequently uses online writing for intense, thoughtful debate – not meaningless, lazy rants filled with grammatical errors. Prime examples are political opinions during the 2012 Presidential election, the current economic crisis, environmental issues, and general online debate.  Many of these arguments are articulate and well written, using correct grammar. Their writing does not mimic that of short hand text messages with no structure, which is a common misperception.


Popular blog writer Penelope Trunk has stated that Generation Y is comprised of great writers. She argues in favor of the new generation when she states, “Information is changing, the flow of ideas is changing, and written communication is changing with it. Information overload is the feeling of not being able to deal with this change. Young people do not feel information overload, which is another sign that they are excellent writers for the new millennium: They can process and communicate new ideas at the new pace.”  Trunk makes a good point that Generation Y does not get as stressed because of rapid changes, since they grew up in the online culture that moves at a fast pace.  I agree with Trunk’s opinion that the new generation has the advantage of being used to the fast pace of the communications industry, but I still have mixed feelings overall -- there is a lot more to writing in the communications industry than the pace at which you can write.


There are really two questions to be answered: what is the quality of Generation Y’s writing overall, and what is the quality of Generation Y’s writing in terms of the communications industry?  On the one hand, they are significantly better at writing for social media, blogs, and debates, and seem comfortable in engaging in this type of writing.  All of these styles of writing require attention to detail and correct grammar.  Where there seems to be a gap is when the writer needs to  slow down and do the quality research and critical thinking that is needed to write articles, white papers, and other in depth writing projects, including the types of writing demanded from communications professionals that would best serve their clients.   A Pew research study discussed in The New York Times article “Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say” stated that, “Adding to this problem is what is called a ‘Wikipedia problem’ where students become accustomed to finding quick answers on the internet and 76 percent of teachers believed students had been conditioned by the internet to find quick answers.”  If you are a journalist for a major publication, you must have high quality writing skills -- those in the communications industry who are writing feature articles, press releases or even pitching stories to reporters need to also have quality writing skills to gain the attention of these journalists and editors.  This requires patience and attention to detail as well as the ability to work at a fast pace and absorb new information easily and quickly.


To sum this all up, Generation Y has the advantage of being accustomed to writing at a fast pace, which is needed in the communications industry, but they should improve upon their in depth analysis skills and research to ensure they integrate the content and thoughtfulness needed for effective professional writing.  


I would love to hear the opinions of PR professionals and Human Resource professionals  on the quality of the writing they are seeing from entry level applicants over the last five or so years.  For more information on this topic, and to discover how we can leverage our team’s expert writing skills to help you capture the attention of your target audience, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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