Undeniably, I’m a prude when it comes to communications.
I’m the guy who proofs menus, movie trailers, and instructions. I’m the guy who pictures someone going on a quest to find funny when someone types “to funny.” I’m the guy who worries about mom when it’s written, “Let’s eat mom” instead of “Let’s eat, mom.” Supposably, misunderestimate, and irregardless are still not words. For all intensive purposes, I have not started a blog to illicit a response from readers.
Let me put out there for posterity’s sake that I am not the king of grammar. Not even close, and with zero aspirations to be so crowned. I am simply a linguistics and punctuation nerd.
My sickness is not so much hand-wringing about the use of words. Words and communication evolve; such growth and flexibility a good thing. It’s not even about verbose communications versus grammarians’ and big cheeses’ bent for short, to-the-point deliveries. And my snobbery is not about the use of slang. I’m a have-fun-with-it, loquacious communicator.
The disturbing trend I see is a lack of self-policing of communications.
Self-Police Your Writing
As an employer, co-worker and manager, I too often witnessed a low caliber of writing coming across my desk and computer, especially from the younger generation. Whether from applicants seeking to make a good impression (but doing just the opposite by butchering cover letters and resumes) or from colleagues and clients with seemingly so much on their plates that they couldn’t take a few seconds to utilize the spellcheck function or proof their emails, the low quality of writing and frequency of mistakes often astonished me.
Let’s break it down.
Composition should be a discipline. There will be a few who know me well who read that declaration and proclaim with more than a smidgeon of finger-wagging, “Exactly!” Guilty as charged. It’s easier to write long. Some would say that’s lazy. I can’t entirely disagree, but I fully recognize the importance of substantial editing and conciseness. That being conceded, if you get your thoughts in order, stick to the gospel that a first draft is exactly that, edit some out and some in, and clean up confusion and redundancy, your purpose in communicating — be it instructing, persuading, providing information, explaining, evaluating, problem-solving, having fun, seducing or whatever — will be realized by the recipient. And appreciated.
The problem goes much deeper than botching the English language. What has me concerned is our creeping acceptance of it. It is one thing that the use of grammar, punctuation, and spelling sometimes resembles the scribbling of some undecipherable code, especially since the advent of the Internet, email, instant messaging, blogging, and text messaging. It is quite another that we tolerate it.
I believe it’s a safe hypothesis to state that the decline of quality writing skills ties, at least in part, to drawing on our most frequently utilized forms of communication — texting and social media — for grammar, punctuation, word choice and sentence structure.
Why do I use the term “creeping acceptance”? Because …
- with each typo or word shortcut deemed acceptable in a business communication
- with each misspelled word on a job application of an employee who is hired anyway
- with each email that contains mistakes but is allowed to stand with impunity
- with each grammatically flawed e-flier that is whipped out to audiences urging action
… we offer approval through our silence.
We live in a hurry-up-and-finish world. We have deadlines, crunch times and obligations bearing down on us. That being the accepted norm, how much time does it take to stop and read that communication before we hit the Send button? How hard is it to use spellcheck? What happened to the word “proofing”? I worry that too many have overlooked the importance of words and their impression on others. We only get one chance, as they say, to make a good first impression. So why allow yourself (or your employees) to send a letter or email to a prospective employer, customer, client, co-worker or even friends that has not been scrutinized and at least quasi-polished?
Communication manners count perhaps as much does comportment in other facets of life. Which comes first — success or solid communications? My theory is the latter begets the former.
Be The Change
Here is my suggestion. Take to heart the adage, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Starting today, renew that pride you felt as a grade-school student over a paper that was well written. Start making painstakingly sure that your communications contain the proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Proofread. Check to see if you any words out. Two tricks: 1) take a mini-break between writing and proofreading; and 2) proofread once aloud. Use spellcheck, but carefully. Polish your copy, making it smooth, engaging, and clear.
If you’re not focused on the quality of your writing, you’re not alone. Turn it around. Acknowledge wayward writing habits and stop allowing slackness for the sake of speed to be acceptable. By making polishing a priority, you will begin to experience a greater sense of personal satisfaction. I promise that it will make a difference on the recipient’s end, partly because your message’s quality is enhanced, but in part because you will have elevated yourself from amongst the carelessness in others’ communications.
If we all begin to take simple steps, we can change this trend from creeping acceptance of decorum in writing to an inclination toward proud intolerance. A writing style perpetuated by poor habits gleaned from texting and social-media communications can, I believe, be improved. Parents and teachers — without question, THE noblest of professions — can’t do it all. Administrators, take time to instill pride in your employees’ writing efforts by gingerly and constructively pointing out less-than-sterling efforts that reflect on your company, on you, and on the individual. Encourage review. Let’s — everyone — look over our communications. Together, we can ratchet up quality one word at a time.
Addendum from LSomerbyCooke:
Below are four longtime personal favorite (and free) wordophile and grammarphile websites:
- Washington State University Professor Paul Brians’ Introduction to Common Errors in English Usage — https://brians.wsu.edu/common-errors-in-english-usage/
- Kansas University Professor Malcolm Gibson’s Wonderful World of Words — http://web.ku.edu/~edit/index.html
- Grammarly Tips — https://www.grammarly.com/blog/category/handbook/
- 20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers by Chris Banks, founder of ProWritingAid.com, and Lisa Lepki, editor of The ProWritingAid blog — is a free e-book download accessible here https://prowritingaid.com/en/Landing/ebook?utm_campaign=BlogTraffic&utm_medium=post&utm_source=PWAblog&utm_content=ebook1