Precis writing skills among recent American graduates: apparently disappearing faster than UC Berkeley’s federal funding…

“We had close to 500 applicants. Inasmuch as the task was to help us communicate information related to the work we do, we gave each of the candidates one of the reports we published last year and asked them to produce a one-page summary. All were college graduates. Only one could produce a satisfactory summary. … Our own research tells us that a large fraction of community college professors do not assign writing to their students because their students cannot write and the professors do not consider themselves to be writing teachers. It is no wonder that employers like us find it so hard to find candidates with serviceable writing skills.”

Admittedly precis and outline writing is a skill that’s only barely acquired after a good deal of practice, and then not by all in a class. It may help if a student has developed the knack of point-summarising by regularly taking hand-written outline lecture notes. Even then ‘getting it’ might require half a semester, rather than just a couple of hours of lessons. It’s a skill that’s likely to be especially difficult for a student who isn’t an avid advanced reader, ideally a reader of factual argumentative content that requires one to constantly unpick arguments on-the-fly.