A prescriptivist perspective

Dear Colleagues:


Across the nation there have been complaints about the written communication skills of college graduates.   There has been real concern about this problem here at UMSL.  The English Department has been reviewing the writing programs and a renewed commitment to excellence has been established.  

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I am also asking all of you to help with pushing for high writing standards.  Please inform your students, whenever possible, about grammatical errors in all materials that are submitted.   Whether or not you take off points for poor grammar, it helps when the students are shown that they are not utilizing proper English.   E-mails have become a huge source of poor grammar.   Many students (if not a majority) no longer feel the need to follow proper grammatical rules when they send e-mails to faculty and other members of the university.   Last year I received an e-mail from a student that began, “hi, me and my classmates is concerned….”  I sent the e-mail back to the student saying that there may be a problem but, I won’t address it until I receive his note in proper English and that he should not address a faculty member with “hi.”   He responded that he was majoring in engineering and why should he have to use proper English????   I reminded him of something that a friend once told me about engineers who can’t speak English properly; they work for other engineers.   We went back and forth several times until he finally sent a perfectly worded and respectful e-mail (his parents evidently told him that I was doing this for his own good).    By the way, he was right.  There was a problem with the course and we fixed the problem as soon as the proper e-mail was received.  


I am asking you all to hold students responsible for using proper English even in e-mails.   This really should be part of our role as their instructors and mentors.   I know it might mean some extra work but, in the end our students will be so much better off if we hold them to high standards of communication.   As always, thank you for your consideration and help. 


I know I must have made a grammatical error somewhere in this note and that I will pay for that.