Have you ever heard of the Glass Ceiling? The Glass Ceiling Congressional Commission defined it as "the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements." Multiple spinoffs describe the invisible barrier in other professions and groups; including the Brass Ceiling (law enforcement and military), the Bamboo Ceiling (Asian Americans), and the Gray Ceiling (the lingering baby boomers keeping younger stock from moving up).  Now that we are familiar with the Glass Ceiling can you guess what the Paper Ceiling is?

  How important are writing skills? Do you really need to be able to write well if do not plan on a career in academia? The answer is an overwhelming yes. Regardless of what career you are pursuing, be it business, engineering, non-profit groups, or even sales, writing is extremely important. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, good writing skills will help you right now in college. For many classes the majority of your grade will be determined by two things, a paper and the exams. While the paper is an obvious score for writing needs, many students do not realize that most exams rely heavily on essay questions. Good essays help you stand out to your professors and earn vital points on the exams, positively affecting your overall grade. Pretend for a moment that after four years you graduate never doing yourself the service of learning to write well, what then?

This is when you realize you have made a terrible error. According to the College Board’s National Commission on Writing(2004) two-thirds of salaried workers in large U.S. companies have jobs that require writing, spending up to thirty percent of their time or two hours a day writing. The study also found that a third of workers failed to meet the writing requirement for their positions. For this reason writing is a “threshold skill” for employee selection and promotion. More on the promotion later, but just to get a job you will need to be able to write well. Lin Grensing reported that “79 percent of surveyed executives cited writing as one of the most neglected skills in business, yet one of the most important to productivity.” He further reported that “80 percent of 443 employers surveyed said their workers needed training in writing skills.” Imagine how much you will stand out if you are a capable writer.

Getting back to our ceiling, it is important to realize that often recognition and promotion goes to the better writer, not necessarily the better worker. Regardless of your profession, you will reach a point where promotion requires writing skills. Here is an anecdote to illustrate the point.

My father is an electrical engineer who works at the Naval Depot for MCAS Cherry Point. It is a government job fixing planes for the Marine Corps. For years he watched as less qualified and dedicated individuals got promoted over him, even as programs he initiated were saving the company  millions of dollars. After taking a few courses on writing for his MBA, he was able to start submitting his own briefs and reports on what his plans and expectations were. Result? Promoted twice within a year, he’s now the boss to his former bosses. In academia, most professors can attest that grant writers are worth their weight in gold at universities. Look at the Supreme Court. The New Republic has heralded Justice Kagan as the new voice of the court, despite the fact that she is the newest Justice, all because of her powerful prose. The article notes that the best writers on the court are not always the most powerful, but are always the best remembered. At some point regardless of your career path, good writing will be essential for advancement.

Still think writing is just for English majors? Do not get trapped under the Paper Ceiling.  Use your time now to develop good writing skills. Provost Sowell recently spoke on the importance of thank you notes and how to write them, so write a few and get in the habit. Proper grammar, spelling, and letter formats are important keys you can start practicing now. Practice makes permanent, so use even simple emails as opportunities to improve your writing style. For further practice, why not write for the student paper? Or the Accolade?


Staff writer and co-creator of The Accolade News


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