WARNING: This post contains bad grammar including but not limited to the 15 most annoying grammar mistakes.
You have been brought up in society that’s constantly correcting you. Your teachers, college professors, colleagues, and even friends make fun of your grammar. Article after article tell you how bad grammar has a direct correlation to under performance like this one that calls it bad business. Or this one which says it effects the bottom line. The consensus is generally that bad grammar is going be the death of your business.
Note I have found that people with bad grammar don’t complain about other people’s grammar. And the only people that seem to get annoyed, care, and right articles on the subject have excellent grammar. And these people love to hate on people that have bad grammar.
This post came about after my team was having a good laugh at a fortune 500 companies CEO’s email (name omitted to protect the innocent) they received. They had me read it and I couldn’t see what was so funny, and the team laughs even harder because I completely missed what they all thought was so funny. So what was so funny, the CEO used ‘their’ when they should have used ‘there’. Or the other way around not sure. I then followed up the next day with an article with the title “Study: People Who Point Out Typos Are Jerks”. That started a back and fourth email exchange on the importance of grammar in the work place against my defense of bad grammar.
Customer Facing vs. Non Customer Facing
Before we go any further I would like to point out that I am not for customer facing bad grammar. Websites, marketing materials, packaging, etc… all should be reviewed and grammatically correct. Doing so takes time and that time is important as it directly reflects on the product/service that you sell.
While I was at the University of Colorado at Boulder I took a business righting course. The course was dedicated to proofing and correcting actual corporate business memorandums. What was interesting is these were mostly older and originally typed on a typewriter. There were also ones that were of electronic means both fax and email. I bring this up as grammar mistakes in the office is not a new thing.
Scholars complain consistently about how prevalent bad grammar is across the entire corporate spectrum from Fortune 500 companies to bootstrapped startups. The big question is why? The simple answers is grammar doesn’t matter for internal communications. That is if your grammar isn’t so bad that the message is lost. But putting the occasional ‘their’ in place of ‘there’ doesn’t prevent the message from getting across to the intended recipient. And the time it would take someone to go back and review every internal comm for bad grammar would only serve to slow down communications.
Now I know there are a lot of people saying, that writing correctly the first time doesn’t slow anything down. Well that’s great for you, congrats you are good at grammar. That isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And I would argue that a very large percentage of entrepreneurs are bad at grammar. I can say this from first had accounts with a box full of CEO emails with bad grammar, along with my experience in college reviewing CEO memo’s.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that bad grammar is a trait of great CEO’s. But I would say that a lot of trait’s that do favor leaders have nothing to do with grammar thus it’s not something they work on. Below is a list from “The Top 10 Qualities That Make A Great Leader”.
No where on the list is good grammar. Now you maybe saying but Travis the list says “Communication”. You can’t communicate with bad grammar! Well I actually have a degree in Communications and good comm skills has nothing to do with good grammar. It’s about encoding, transmitting, and decoding an intended message. If your message gets to the attended recipient and is understood as intended that congrats you communicated properly. The reason why communications is a skill of successful leaders is in there ability to communicate to people in a way that provokes an action. That can be excepting a job position, motivating a team too hit targets, pushing people beyond they’re own perceived limits, etc…
Their are also some other positive consequences from bad grammar. One of which is perception. I often say that to be late is disrespectful because it says that your time is more important then the other persons. The same is true with communications. You can tell who is the ‘important’ person and who is the ‘un-important’ person just by looking at an email string. A sales persons email will not only have proper grammar but it will also be structured professionally. That is it will have a formal greeting, proper paragraphs, etc… Mean while the recipients reply will usually drop such etiquette because it’s faster and they are less concerned. In this situation the sales person spends a significant more time then the recipient. Successful leaders use this to there advantage.
None of this prevents someone with good grammar from becoming a great leader. But when you are a great leader you understand what is important and you delegate responsibility internally and externally. And when you are using written communication to people you make a decision on how much to spend on each piece of communication. And the more successfully you become the more you need to communicate leaving less and less time for each individual letter. So even the CEO that is known for good grammar is going to let things slip through in order to save time and get the job done.
Just do the math, if you spend just 1 min reviewing each email and you respond and or send 140 emails a day that two hours and twenty minutes everyday wasted on fixing a ‘to / too’.
Technology has drastically changed the landscape. Microsoft Word which brought everyone the red and blue squiggly lines has drastically changed business computing. For some additional reading here is a good article on Richard Brodie who is the man who wrote Microsoft Word. You will notice that this entire post is not about poor spelling but poor grammar. The reason for that is attributed to Brodie’s work on spell check. So unlike business communications in the years before spell check modern communications is almost always used with words spelled correctly. And now with the blue squiggly line which checks basic grammar things are changing. But most people do not use modern word processors to draft emails. Their are other service that can plug into modern web based email systems like grammarly. Services like these will further push leaders into good grammar without any user thought.
But till the day that grammar is completely automatic, business leaders are going to continue using poor grammar. So to everyone out their that is annoyed or complains about bad grammar, I say stop wasting your time and get back to work. It’s obvious the sender cares more about getting things done.