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67.97% of the UK adult population has below average basic literacy skills, a statistic that has serious implications for the long term prospects of the UK economy, according to a nationwide survey undertaken to coincide with the launch of Better Writing: Better Business™, an interactive writing skills programme designed for use in the workplace to quickly teach staff about the correct use of the language.

These results support Skills for Life findings which estimate that 5.2 million adults in the UK are at, or below, the literacy standard expected of an 11 year old*. If these adults were to sit a GCSE English exam, they would fail. According to a survey by Ernst and Young, the growing problem of lack of basic skills in the workplace is costing the UK economy an estimated £10 billion each year in lost contracts and incorrect invoices**.

The Basic Writing Skills survey, undertaken by educational software developer Basic Writing Skills, also discovered that women have higher average literacy levels than men, scoring an average of 15% higher than their male counterparts in the test.

The reasons for declining UK writing skill levels are arguably attributable to two factors: first, people not knowing that there is a difference between informal and formal language, ie how one speaks to friends is different from how one should prepare documents; and second, people not understanding the rules for written English, and therefore writing in ways that are personal to them but not necessarily comprehensible to others.

Heather Ker, creator of Better Writing: Better Business™, said:
“There has long been a belief that because we speak English, we can write it. The teaching of grammar and punctuation has therefore been largely neglected for about 30 years and we are seeing the results of that now. Ignoring basic rules would not happen in any other subject. We wouldn’t say, ‘You can bang a nail in with a hammer – go and build a house.’ If you want to write well, there are rules to be learnt here too. They aren’t complex, and once you have them life improves in many ways.

“The decline in literacy has not been helped by two aspects of modern society – increasing reliance on ‘Spell Check’ tools within word processing programmes where, for the most part, any corrections are automatically made or highlighted and brought to the user’s attention. Moreover, ‘txt’ language on mobile phones encourages personal interpretative spelling – which is inconsistent as well as incorrect - to save space and time. This kind of writing has increasingly been adopted by many for informal emails.

“Dwindling literacy levels can have a direct effect on the corporate bottom line. The written word is today the most common form of business contact, be it email, letter or report, all of which are a direct representation of the author and the author’s organisation. Spelling or punctuation errors convey that the writer, and the company they represent, are careless and lack attention to detail. Such a damaging evaluation can result in a loss of business, as the survey by Ernst and Young has shown.

“Literacy is a key communicating skill for any business, and employees of any age can acquire it. Better Writing: Better Business™ is the only product designed specifically for UK adults which easily addresses writing deficiencies. I believe the programme will have an immediate benefit in improving literacy skills and result in much improved business communication.”

A web-based learning tool, Better Writing: Better Business™ is self-paced, user-friendly, easy to navigate and designed for incremental learning. Based on scientific principles of learning, the programme teaches in stages with clear, concise lessons, practice questions and reviews. If users spend only five minutes daily on the programme, they can complete it in 30 days. They need not leave their workplace to participate or organise a special time to do it, ensuring that business disruption is minimised and clearing the way for increased productivity and business efficiency.

Businesses and their employees are able to register, pay for and use the programme online. Managers will be able to utilise the reporting tools to set learning goals for employees - and to monitor effectiveness of the learning.

“Giving employees the chance to master basic writing skills will bring many additional benefits, creating a better working environment, motivating the workforce, improving workplace safety, encouraging employees to be more self-sufficient and, perhaps most importantly, boosting profits! The Better Writing: Better Business™ programme provides a fast, effective, inexpensive service that will benefit businesses nationwide,” added Heather.

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About the Better Writing: Better Business™ Survey
The online survey presented a series of statements, asking visitors to identify the error within each by selecting the correct answer from a set of drop-down menus.

The survey was undertaken to discover a possible pattern in current literacy problems in the UK.

The survey was conducted online at

About Better Writing: Better Business™
Better Writing: Better Business™ is a unique, flexible resource designed to teach the basics of English grammar and punctuation.

Better Writing: Better Business™ was created by Heather Ker as part of the Better Writing Series of programmes from Basic Writing Skills (UK) Ltd.

Basic Writing Skills (UK) Ltd has plans to release Better Writing: Better Grades™, a programme designed to enhance the writing skills of students to improve their grades.

About Heather Ker
Heather Ker has regularly facilitated business writing coaching for a range of organisations and taught for 23 years at the Waikato Institute of Technology’s Department of Communication, where she was a Senior Tutor.

Heather Ker specialises in coaching adults in plain English written communication, in writing workbooks and other resources, and in editing and proofreading. Her work has invariably involved reviewing writing competencies and office documents to identify training needs for business clients, with subsequent customising or up-dating of workbooks.

In the course of her work, she has:

* Developed a series of web-based interactive user-friendly resources (Better Writing: Better Business™ and Better Writing: Better Grades™) for business and educational organisations worldwide
* Edited websites, commemorative journals, books, essays and reports for a range of businesses and individuals
* Designed and written two online programmes: Grammar Online, and Introduction to Poetry Writing Online for tertiary students at the Waikato Institute of Technology
* Created many course books in Foundation Communication, Creative Writing, Business Writing, Report Writing and Speed Reading for students and business clients of the Waikato Institute of Technology, BR Training, and Warren Lee and Associates.
* Published research into the writing skills of college students.


*Skills for Life survey 2003

** Learning and Skills Council

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