The Importance of Good Grammar

Recently, I have found myself more and more frustrated and dumbfounded by the sheer lack of attention people seem to pay to their own writing. There are certainly circumstances under which I can understand using poor grammar.

However, over the last few months, I have encountered poor grammar in almost all situations from almost all types of people. I have seen sloppy, unedited writing in commercial marketing. I have seen and heard poor spelling and speech in professional situations and official communiques from various white-collar managers.

I am not sure whether I would be so sensitive to this situation if it were not for the fact that I am employed by an institution of higher learning. Unfortunately, though, it has become nearly unbearable for me.

I see e-mail messages and letters from professors (many of them professors of English, even). I see correspondence from students (these are college students, not elementary school students). Even worse, I see resumes and cover letters from potential employees. In all of these forms of communication, nine times out of ten, the writing is sloppy and incorrect, the spelling is poor, the vocabulary is weak and the grammar is attrocious atrocious.

The most astounding example I can conjure at the moment occurred when we were advertising for a new public relations professional. One of the applicants submitted work from his portfolio, in which typographical errors plagued the examples he provided.

First of all, these were supposed to be exemplary illustrations of the applicant’s best work. If that’s his best work, he simply won’t succeed in our office. Secondly, the person was applying for a position that revolves around the ability to write, read and edit professionally.

Unfortunately, though, we need to consider the fact that everyone will, at one point or another, be expected to communicate with others. In order to represent our office and our institution well, that person needs to be able to write and speak properly. That’s a simple fact of life.

I honestly do not know how other people run their offices, but we will not hire someone that submits subpar application materials. I did feel a bit validated the other day when I came across an interesting video from Jason Fried, the founder and CEO of 37Signals.

Although the video goes on for quite a while about a completely different subject (still well worth the watch), I picked up on a particular point he made within the video. Just as we do, he and his associates refuse to consider someone for a position if they make typographical errors on their application materials. In saying so, he makes a great point: Someone who makes grammatical mistakes on his resume is demonstrating the fact that he has poor attention to detail. That is a negative quality no matter what position you are trying to fill.

To be honest, I am not extremely picky about grammar or spelling. I completely understand that people make mistakes occasionally, and that everyone is apt to mess up sometimes (in fact, I’m sure that there are people reading this post right now, looking for grammatical or spelling errors). However, when it becomes glaringly obvious that the author did not even run the item through a spellchecker or ask someone else to proofread the document, it’s too much for me.

I am not sure whether this is a new phenomenon or not. If it is new, I honestly cannot say whether it is the result of the casual nature of e-mail and text messaging, whether it is due to the globalization of communication or if it is simply a problem of laziness. I do know, however, that it has me frightened. Further it worries the heck out of me when I read things written by my two teenagers and cannot even begin to decipher the message they were trying to convey.

5 Responses

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  • Paige

    Before I begin writing to you on what I thought about your story; I am one that has a terrible time with my grammar, so you may see a lot of mistakes.

    You have great points. We need to know how to use our grammar in order to line up with a good, if not, a decent job. Now, my question to you is, how do we better ourselves with our grammar? I am one that struggles everday in using appropriate grammar, let alone punctuation. I take on line classes and one that I am in right now is, Composition. We take quizes every week on grammar and punctuation, and I can not seem to make good grades on these quizes. I would love to get my grades up in this class, and I would also love to learn how to use grammar appropriatly.


    • Research, reading and practice are about the only ways to really improve grammar and spelling. Outside of those suggestions, I would also recommend having someone proofread everything you write, then mark it up with a red pen so that you can learn from the mistakes you’ve made. Hopefully that will help, at least in the long run.

  • Carrie M

    At first, I thought this article was a joke. When I saw the word “attrocious” was not spelled correctly, I did not take the article seriously. It is spelled “atrocious” with one “t”. You are correct in stating that everyone does make mistakes, and even I make mistakes. I am just offering constructive criticism when it comes to mentioning the use of spellchecker.


    • Thank you for pointing that out. This post has been up for almost 3 years without anyone pointing that out until now. I find that kind of funny. :)

      I have marked the correction in the article.