At a recent meal with friends, I was made aware that a few of them get nervous when writing me a text or email. They’re not nervous that I’ll decline an invitation or cancel at the last minute. They’re afraid I’ll correct their grammar.
Yes, words are the very essence of my job. But I don’t ever correct casual conversation or informal communications like text messages. Same for Christmas letters and greeting cards exchanged with friends.
But woe to the professional who sends me a letter or hands me a brochure riddled with errors. What I feel when I read a professional communication with grammatical or spelling errors is probably akin to what a math teacher feels when she sees “2 + 1 = 4.” It’s wrong. It’s not that it’s close enough, it’s that it is wrong.
The difference, some people will say, is that in math there are right answers but writing is arbitrary. Not so. There are rules to the English language, and there are still good reasons to learn them and apply them.
With this in mind, I offer my top five reasons to using proper grammar:
1. You sound smarter. “Bad writing makes bright people look dumb,” as William Zinsser once observed so succinctly.
2. Nearly 25 years ago, when I declared my intention to be an English major, a friend informed me that I was studying something that computers would render obsolete in our lifetimes. As it turns out, as our face-to-face conversation becomes less frequent and our business is increasingly transacted via email or the internet, the ability to effectively communicate in writing is more important than ever.
3. Grammatical errors interfere with clarity.
4. Too many little errors have the aggregate effect of making you appear sloppy, careless and worse – incompetent.
5. Good writing will make people want to date you, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. It made Katy von Kühn want to go out with her future husband, Sam, when she saw his posting on a dating site: “The whole reason I responded to Sam was the way he formulated his e-mail.”
Sure, when you’re sending out dozens of emails a week and writing comment after comment on social media posts, mistakes will be made. For longer, more formal communications, there’s no excuse for not re-reading what you’ve written, or even better, to running that letter past a trusted colleague before you print 100 copies.
To err is human. To correct your grammatical mistakes, divine.