Monday, February 1, 2016

The standard of English in university communications - what gives?

Like all other students who graduated from JC last year, Lesley-Anne has been receiving many flyers and brochures from the local universities of late. This is quite typical, I guess, as every university fights to attract the best and the brightest from each cohort.

Since I'm a professional writer, I'm usually less interested in the glossy covers and illustrious people gracing the pages of the magazines. For me, it's more interesting to see how each university positions itself based on its writing style.

The NUS style is quite corporate and very professional - it projects authority and credibility. Very much in line with its track record and heritage.

SMU is more casual - it tries to engage the student in a personal way. Again, in line with its image as a smaller and cosier university.

Yale-NUS is the most vibrant and projects the most fun image, befitting its youth, size and liberal arts curriculum.

I don't have an impression of SUTD because I haven't seen any flyers. I believe Lesley-Anne might have received one but she chucked it because SUTD's courses are not suitable for her.

Then we come to NTU. Lesley-Anne showed me the cover letter that was enclosed with a magazine and we were both bemused by the standard of English, particularly in the second paragraph:

The phrasing in the second sentence (second paragraph) is totally awkward. The third sentence gave us giggles. Lesley-Anne asked, "Their professors are spinning toys?"

That prompted me to flip the magazine that was enclosed. I didn't read the articles in detail but just by browsing, I quickly spotted some very strange phrases.

"Learning at NTU has a new icon in a 24-hub..." What? Does the writer even understand the word "icon" and how to use it?

"Do-gooder" is a noun. I know it's all the rage now but you can't suka suka change a noun into an adjective, especially in an official magazine.

Nothing wrong with the English here, just the very, very odd last sentence. Apparently, because Stephen Hawking is a scientist, it's okay to substitute his name in a Star Trek phrase. Which incidentally, referenced teleportation. Nothing to do with holograms...or Stephen Hawking.

Oh look, they used the phrase again! Twice in the same magazine - they must really like the phrase. This time correct name but guess what, still nothing to do with teleportation. The third sentence is so confusing I can't comment on it. I wish people would understand that writing is so much more than just planting catchy phrases here and there. The content and the context have to make sense.

I wish to qualify that I have nothing against NTU. I have actually written for NUS, SMU, Yale-NUS and NTU in the past and enjoyed working with all of them. I'm posting this because as a copywriter, I get vexed when I spot instances of bad English in official collaterals, as blogged about here. And it is my fervent belief that while it's unprofessional for organisations to put out communications publications with questionable English, it's even more unforgivable when that organisation is a university.

You may say, well, probably the Engineering and Accountancy students won't care or even notice but that's not the point. A university is supposed to be the bastion of knowledge and academic rigour. It reflects terribly on the standards of a university when it can't even communicate correctly. Also, I thought NTU has been trying to move away from its rather stodgy reputation as a mostly engineering university, and attract more students to its arts and social sciences courses. This doesn't help.

I don't know if the writing for the letter and magazine was done in-house or outsourced to external writers. Whatever it is, the editing can and should be tightened. If all else fails, NTU, if you're reading this, you can always give me a call.


e said...

Hi Monica,

Would Lesley-Anne be interested to write articles on a freelance basis?

A group of us( NSFs and a fine lady who is taking a gap year to explore her interests) are setting up a website with a focus on raising awareness of the different professions, an issue that is severe amongst youth today ( or just about youths in every day and age) This is hugely unfortunate situation!

We intend to do this through articles with a conversational slant, rather than the cold and clinical style as prescribed in the usual career guides of the classified section. How many people read them anyway? The intention is to follow up the interview with a one day job-shadowing to provide more insights by humanizing pe the job and go beyond the traditional QnA interview fare. There are plenty of website out there already doing similar things, why is there a need for another one? Well, those interviews and jobs are not contextualised to Singapore and are mostly skewed towards the western public/youths. Furthermore, there is not one particular website where information is consolidated and written by youths for youths! What we hope to achieve is quality writing coupled with insightful interviews and behind-the-scenes take at the different job, the intersection of which lies an informed and enlightened reader.

Just so you know I've been a rather dedicated blog reader after coming across your blog when I typed " PSLE questions" for my little sister way back in 2008 and have been a follower since! In fact, I rather- rather, especially- enjoyed your travel blogs for the combination of good pictures and succinct writing. Well, that led to me urging you to complete your HK detailing if your travels- not to much work on your part, I hope ;)

Anyhow, we are at a stage in which we are recruiting people whom may be interested in this cause of spreading awareness of the different profession and the idea is still very much in its infancy. Would Lesley-anne be interested in joining us as a capacity as a writer? She seems to have a particular flair for writing, if my memory of what her imaginative, off-the-beaten track PSLE compositions showed. If anything, she must have matured more as a writer in the intervening years!

It'd be a good way it make use of those long months before uni starts and to get in touch with the different professions available!

Dion ( 83664280- contact number for easy communications. Sans hedgehog ;)

e said...

Just to clarify that i wasn't precise enough when I mentioned "on a freelance basis". This is a wholly non-commercial idea and we are all doing it because we believe in the cause.

monlim said...

Dion: Thanks for the invite and I applaud your enthusiasm! Unfortunately, L-A is actually super busy before uni starts. We currently trying to finish writing another 5 books for a new Danger Dan series before she enrols, on top of conducting talks and workshops. So she's got her hands full!

Nevertheless, am very happy that you enjoy reading my blog and I wish you and your friends all the best in your writing endeavour!

Karmeleon said...

SUTD comes with Nanoblocks!

By the way, it's not typical to receive flyers and invitations. Only the Top tier (not sure if it's top 10, top 20 or top 30% , receive such bc the JCs "report" to the universities of their higher percentile students. My eldest received none last time until A-levels results are out, when they just go for Open Houses themselves.

monlim said...

Karmeleon: Oic, thanks for the info. I knew that JCs feed the info of top students to scholarship organisations, but didn't know they did it for the unis too.

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