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Friday, July 15, 2011

Why spelling and grammar matter

I once had a brief conversation with a colleague, after I'd co-founded a "Council for Writing Quality" at a previous workplace. He'd scoffed at my efforts, and I can still remember (and recreate) a steep rise in my blood pressure when he said "But, others can understand [the message] anyway. Who cares if there's the occasional typo?"

It probably behooves me to insert a disclaimer concerning both people with dyslexia or other linguistic learning disorders and non-native speakers at this point, prior to commencing my rant in earnest. I certainly wouldn't exact the same standards for either writing or pronunciation when I'm aware that they're functionally blind, cognitively impaired, or if the language happens to be someone's second, third or fourth tongue. But the above paraphrase originated from someone who was not suffering from any known linguistic impairment and only knew English natively.

Perhaps it's because English was not my first language, but I've given much thought to its morphology and grammar. Since my prior two languages were morphologically more complex (French) and quite utterly foreign in practically every respect (Japanese: script, phonemes, word order, verb inflection), the primary challenge I had with English was its pronunciation (Sault Ste. Marie stands out vividly as a place name that I was laughed at for incorrectly sounding it out, in elementary/primary school).

In any case, here are my reasons for why I believe adhering to basic grammatical rules and orthography, especially in professional context, matters:

  • It's discourteous to ask your audience to cope with poor delivery when the errors are easily correctable. Communication is about conveying signal, and as per my spouse's stance, introducing noise unnecessarily is a sign of lacking consideration for the recipient. I feel this way about "texting spelling" also, and even eschew it in my tweets although many would think contractions are admissible on Twitter.
  • Every piece of writing we produce at work has the likelihood of being forwarded, archived, and/or otherwise widely distributed. This means that if these writings are attributable to you, you're cumulatively establishing a projection of your competence, knowledge, eloquence and meticulousness. Consistent and noticeably blatant typos in your body of writing detract from the image you're creating for yourself. In other words, not bothering to correct obvious errors (in the set of grammatical realm in English, the its/it's, you're/your, and their/there/they're issues jump out at me especially frequently) means you're sabotaging your own career. Particularly important are job application cover letters and resumes since they create first impressions, as demonstrated in the Dilbert (c) used in this post.
Courtesy of Klaus, I'll offer a link to the Top 10 Spelling "Fails" on Facebook.

About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.