I am locked in battle with the Royal Bank of Scotland over a footling issue with a credit-card. They sent me a card dated Jan 2014 that expires in Feb 2014. Shocking!
Their Customer Service people have sent a long letter apologising for the letter and offering some small compensation for the inconvenience I have had in trying to sort out the muddle. Fair enough.
But this letter itself has prompted a new complaint, as it contained three fatuous spelling errors (including my own address) and a couple of dozen punctuation/grammar errors. The letter was very hard to read as a result. So let’s see how they respond to that.
I recently gave a Drafting session at the FCO. Even though it was obvious that their work would benefit from some sharp editing, there was a subtle sense among some of the participants that ‘old-school’ top-end FCO drafting was not what was required these days, and might even be deemed to be elitist. Still, other Foreign Ministries seem keen on learning from me how to write tip-top English (including proof-reading, punctuation and so on).
As I have had said before, it’s not that our civilisation faces a rising tide of young people working their way up through the ranks who don’t write well. Rather the problem is that the very idea of writing well is suspect. Hey, it’s just your opinion that this way of writing that sentence is ‘better’ than mine.
So when Clifford Chance fret about Oxbridge bias and run a ‘CV-blind’ approach to recruiting, what do they think is going to happen?
Staff conducting the interviews are no longer given any information about which university candidates attended, or whether they come from state or independent schools…
In addition, half the posts on its vacation programmes (offering placements in the spring and summer to existing students) are reserved for those who come through an “Intelligent Aid” scheme, where candidates write a 250 to 500-word essay on a topic important to the firm and then do a presentation on it. Again, the candidate’s university background is not revealed.
They might get a rather wider spread of recruits than they have had previously. Fair enough. But this sort of testing naturally favours candidates from educational backgrounds where accurate writing and expression have been prioritised. Dare one suggest that Oxbridge and public school candidates will tend to do well here too?
It’s simple. Either you have learned to write with accuracy and precision, using the full range of punctuation to say exactly what needs to be said and no more. Or you have not. So you scatter ideas like confetti across a page, dividing them with streams of commas in the hope that the reader will be willing to battle through the chaos to extract the meaning.
I am talking to Guardian Masterclasses about running a session on Professional Writing. So you soon may be able to sign up to that magnificent opportunity to improve your style.
Update: Via the Browser, try this long but tough look at what is and isn’t poor use of the passive form in English grammar. Some surprising and strong examples of people getting this quite wrong – and drawing very odd conclusions.