Tools to Help MBAs Unlearn Bad Writing Behavior

“MBA students often have to unlearn bad behavior, such as using complicated words over simple ones,” says Carter Daniel in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Carter is the business communication programs director at Rutgers Business School. The article, “Students Struggle for Words,” points out that business schools, in response to employer complaints are emphasizing writing skills more. MBA program approaches for improving their students’ writing skills vary from hiring writing coaches to adding communications courses to the curriculum. There was no mention of technology as either a solution or supplemental approach to helping MBA students improve their writing skills.

Technology Tools

I mention technology as an option because of the number of MBA students I encounter that are unaware of the writing tools that are available to them in applications they are already using. For example, Microsoft Word includes tools that can help MBA students address spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, and readability issues in their writing. Although, the tools are far from perfect they do help eliminate a majority of the common errors most MBA students make when writing. On the other hand, the elimination of common errors means writing coaches and communication course instructors can focus on higher level writing skills such as organization and structure of content, style, and purpose.

Briefly, I want to introduce some of the tools that are available in Word 2010 to illustrate what is available. Word 2010 can analyze a document for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and for issues relating to style and readability. Word installation sets each analysis tool to a default setting. Users can modify the settings to meet their needs or individual preferences. The following is a summary list of the tools. I also provide a link if you want more information.

  • Spelling check includes multiple language dictionaries and the capacity to build a custom dictionary in addition to checking for the correct spelling of words
  • Grammar check includes options for checking for errors in capitalization, fragments and run-ons, misused words, negation, noun phrases, possessives and plurals, punctuation, questions, relative clauses, subject-verb agreement, and verb phrases
  • Punctuation check identifies unneeded commas in date phrases, informal successive punctuation marks, and missing commas before quotations
  • Style check includes options for checking for the use of clichés, colloquialisms, and jargon, contractions, fragments, gender-specific words, hyphenated and compound words, misused words, numbers, passive sentences, possessives and plurals, relative clauses, sentence length, sentence structure, sentences beginnings, successive nouns and prepositional phrases, unclear or ambiguous phrasing, use of first person, verb phrases, wordiness, split infinitives
  • Readability is checked using the Flesch Reading Ease index (0 -100 where a higher score indicates easier reading) and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale (US grade school education level)
Useful Starting Point

I use these tools on a daily basis. Even though these tools have a limited focus, they do provide a useful starting point for MBA students wanting to start the unlearning process. The analytics and feedback associated with each tool identifies the error and in many cases provides information or a link describing the error in detail. The MBA student can correct the error while learning about the error so they can prevent making the same error in future writing.

MBA students can use these tools in many ways. As a starting point, I recommend spending time getting to know the tools and their individual settings. In most cases, this should take no more than 30-minutes. Next, identify several documents that are representative of your writing skills and style, and proof them using the Spelling & Grammar Proofing function of Word. The results will help you focus your improvement efforts.

There are many ways for MBA students to improve their writing skills. The use of Word tools is one way. Do you have others? Please share them with us in the comments section below.


Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP
Professor of Accounting
Founder of

[Image purchased from iStockphoto]

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