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©2000 Zhan Huan Zhou
Updated Jan-01-2000

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Alphabet Soup

©1999 Zhan Huan Zhou, Fall 1998, Issue 4

In various articles I’ve come across in recent issues of The Iron Warrior and Imprint, I’ve noticed a common trend among the writing abilities of the average student. It seems that somewhere along the line of our academic career, communication skills were pushed to the back in favour of more technical skills like mathematics and science.

Many of us take English for granted, probably because it is our natural tongue and we speak it everyday. However, it greatly saddens me when people cannot differentiate between words such as its & it’s and your & you’re, among others. It also surprises me when people cannot spell or pronounce words that are phonetically correct. My first language is not English and I can even differentiate different flavours of homonyms as well as correctly apply phonetics. Perhaps the reason I can do as such is because I spent a large portion of my early life learning proper English. These common mistakes, though small, show that many of us have a problem understanding the fundamental concepts of the English language.

Greater problems arise from these menial subtleties by trickling higher into written, as well as oral communication. One such example is the inability of argumentative works to effectively convince the reader of the point. In an article from July 10, 1998 issue of The Iron Warrior, the author calls the reader ‘stupid’ if he doesn’t agree with the author’s stance. This insult not only occurs once, but twice. There was absolutely no evidence that I would be ‘stupid’ if I did not agree. In fact, I think it would have been ‘stupid’ to agree with the article since the 400+ words could have been reduced to: "I mean, c’mon, how can you possibly think anything else?" Not very convincing to say the least.

Ideas should always be presented in a very distinct, consistent and logical manner. Mathematical problems require a thought process akin to writing. The beginning should flow logically to the body. At the end, the correctness of the final result should be difficult to question, if not irrefutable. If however, you made a fundamental mistake in the body, the final result will be quite difficult to accept. The same rules to solving math problems apply for writing, a well presented body is required for a convincing result. The only difference is that in math, there is a single ‘right’ answer. In writing, you decide what is ‘right’. It’s your job to make it ‘the most right.’

Effective communication is not only key to being a successful engineer, but of becoming a successful person. An idea or thought that is lost among jumble of random ideas will not be as well received as one that is presented in a very distinct manner. Your ideas represent who you are. However, if you cannot communicate them, what difference will it make?