We’re becoming more illiterate – but like um, does anyone care?

I’m no grammar expert, but I do make an effort to use language that is easy-to-understand whenever I write. I figure it’s only polite to do so – it shows respect for my readers.

I also double-check everything I publish – it comes from the training I received in my management apprenticeship. There was a very good reason for this training – mistakes are costly. And my first boss educated me on how easy it is to avoid mistakes, just by taking pride in my work. Plus he added the motivation of losing my job if I stuffed up!

That doesn’t mean I get it right all the time. But I try.

Which brings me to a problem that’s occurring more and more in business – a decline in the quality of work. It’s reflected in two ways – the use of the written word and the lack of care for the quality of what’s published, or not, as the case may be.

Too many appear to rely on computers to correct errors, rather than proofread and do the quality control themselves.

The OECD International Adult Literacy Study revealed the following:

  • 48.5% of people have difficulty reading basic language
  • 32.7% of people have average literacy ability

So about 82% of the population struggles to read and write competently. And every day online, we’re seeing more and more evidence of this, as well as of the zero care-factor about the accuracy and craftmanship of work.

Here are some recent examples from alleged professionals in online newspapers – most were sent to me by a sadly disappointed marketer Richard Warland. You’ll need to click on the images to view the errors of their ways.

This SMH webpage didn’t even bother to put copy into the paragraph under the headline: Window cleaners in dramatic CBD rescue. They used a strange version of computer-generated gobbledygook.

SMH site
We can’t be bothered writing any copy…

You only die twice?

In this article a man died “after being electrocuted“. Notice to the journalist – if you are electrocuted you are dead. So you cannot be electrocuted and then die afterwards. You die from electrocution.

SMH site 3
You only die twice?

The lost airline

And in this article the government is apparently calling for tenders to hunt for a missing airline – that’s right, a whole airline has gone missing according to this journalist.

SMH site 2
Anyone seen a whole airline?

And I just have no idea what this News Ltd journalist even means – what the hell is gradualist managerialism? And what does it have to do with cricket?

Gideon Haigh
Aahh ‘gradualist managerialism’ – we all use that phrase on a daily basis…

Beware rug runners

Apparently Phil Judd, the drummer from AC/DC, is in trouble for possessing a rug. And I thought his hair was natural.

AC/DC’s Phil Rudd is being charged for possession of a wig?

Mood lighting can be fierce?

And again, according to a SMH video, the recent Sydney storms included fierce lights. You have to be careful when lights get into a dark mood.

Mood lighting can be fierce

In the last few years we’ve seen an exponential rise in the number of individuals and businesses publishing words online. Yet there has been no increase in the number of people studying Communications or Journalism at tertiary education institutions.

And you guessed it dear reader, these literate-challenged scribes are passing themselves off as “content marketing experts“. The mind boggles at the advice they provide and the content they create, if the above work from “professionals” is anything to go by?

Please note – the ability to use a keyboard and spell-checker doesn’t qualify you as a copywriter, or even a “content creator“.

Unfortunately, I fear I’m preaching to an empty church. The dumbing-down of communication and lack of pride in our work is so commonplace, people have given up trying. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.

Next thing you know, businesses will use cartoons to communicate. What’s that dear reader, you say they already use cartoons?

OMG they’re those INFOGRAPHICS!!”

An infographic about infographics

Where’s my Photoshop – I’ve got some editing to do…





  1. Malcolm,

    I couldn’t agree more. People don’t seem to seem to understand that they write to communicate, and that if they don’t write clearly, they may be misunderstood. They make the reader do the work.


    Adam Gordon

  2. I am a copywriter (people pay me to write, so I think do qualify!). I’m also an advocate of clear English. But I have to take issue with you.

    Apart from the “gradualist managerialism” nonsense, most of these are simple typos by people forced to work at speed. Also, to cut costs newspapers have, for a while now, been getting rid of the sub-editors who would previously have caught these errors. So don’t blame the journalists for sloppy standards – blame their employers.

    By the way, I didn’t understand this bullet point: “32.7% of people average literacy ability”. Was something missing? Are you using “average” as a verb? If so, it doesn’t quite work here. Or did you mean to say “32.7% of people ARE BELOW average literacy ability” or something similar? Although what would that mean, anyway? A large proportion of the population must necessarily be below average.

    (Sorry, those are exactly the kind of annoying, pernickety questions a former sub-editor would ask.)

    • Thanks Clare, I appreciate your response and congratulations you picked up the mistake:) The OECD research says average literacy ability is about 10 years of education. And don’t apologise for pernickety. Like you I earn my living writing and also teaching copywriting, so always happy to be corrected when I stuff up. I won’t get into a debate about sub-editing and employers, as we all have our opinions about what’s happening with online journalism. Maintain the rage though…

  3. Here’s another doozy from a recent motor race report – from not one but TWO Australian news providers –

    ABC News website “Red flags were eventually waived”

    Ninemsn website “when the red flags were waived”

    They edited the press release and yet still carried over the error…

Comments are closed.

© Malcolm Auld Direct Pty Ltd 2022 | Commercial In Confidence

Privacy Policy

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop