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Canada’s Economists Need To Improve Their Writing Skills: Report

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Dean Beeby is a reporter and Deputy Chief of Bureau at The Canadian Press news organization.
Dean Beeby is a reporter and Deputy Chief of Bureau at The Canadian Press news organization.

It’s important to be able to write clearly. Some of Canada’s economists are finding out just how important.

An “internal report card” gave mediocre grades to economists at the Bank of Canada on their writing skills.

The Bank of Canada is Canada’s central, or main, bank. “Economists” at the Bank of Canada are in charge of making sure Canada’s economy is healthy.

Every once in awhile, organizations like the Bank of Canada take a look at how well they’re doing. Just like school report cards, they grade themselves in many different areas so they can see where they need to improve. It’s called an “audit.”

It turns out, writing is one area that needs improvement.

The audit showed that many of the bank’s economists, most of whom have more than one university degree, need help with their grammar, their ability to write clearly and their ability to show which ideas are the most important (prioritize) in their written work.

Economists at the Bank of Canada must often take very complicated ideas and simplify them so they can be understood by people who aren’t economists.

It’s very important that their written work be clear and accurate. They must also be able to get their message across quickly and in a way that makes it easy for the reader or listener to understand.

How this issue was uncovered by the reporter

It’s interesting to know how the public found out about this problem.

A reporter at news agency The Canadian Press (CP)–Dean Beeby–filed an Access to Information request. That’s a request Canadians can make to get behind-the-scenes information from federal government institutions.

Beeby received a report in which much of the information was blacked out. In other words, it wasn’t all made public to the reporter.

So the reporter complained to the Information Commissioner of Canada, who acts like a referee. After investigating for about a year, she agreed that the information should be made public and the Bank of Canada agreed to send the reporter a copy with the information filled in.

The “blacked-out” information was about the economists’ poor writing skills.

Beeby told TKN he filed the request because he was curious about what goes on inside the Bank of Canada. “Despite the Bank of Canada’s efforts to communicate policies and be more transparent… we don’t know a lot about it,” he said. “For me, as a reporter, I want to know what’s going on inside.”

He said the Bank of Canada often has to keep information secret because “one slip from them and it could affect the stock market, the bond market. They have to be really careful with their words. That’s understandable.”

But the information Beeby was asking for wasn’t about the economy, and therefore shouldn’t have been hidden. The Information Commissioner agreed.

“This isn’t me extracting information,” said Beeby. “This is a law of Canada that permits (people) to ask questions of our federal institutions and to get actual answers.”

Beeby reports that being able to write clearly and in plain language is a job requirement for Canada’s economists. A Treasury Board policy document says, “Messages should convey information relevant to public needs, use plain language and be expressed in a clear and consistent style.”

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Many people put a lot of time and effort to improve their writing skills. What are you working on in order to become a better writer? Do you think the economists can do the same? Do you think it could help them become better writers too?

Reading Prompt: Point of View
Many people would respond to today’s article differently. How might the following people react to this news: The Bank of Canada, The Information Commissioner, an economist at the Bank of Canada, the reader.

Junior
Identify the point of view presented in texts, ask questions to identify missing or possible alternative points of view, and suggest some possible alternative perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).

Intermediate
Identify the point of view presented in texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts; give evidence of any biases they may contain; and suggest other possible perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).

Grammar Feature:
In his article, Dean Beeby pointed out this phrase full of economic jargon, which had been written by Bank of Canada economists. What do you think it means? Rewrite it to improve its grammar and clarity.

“Financial fragmentation continues to impair the transmission of monetary policy…”