Eclectic Blog

Are Poor Spelling and Grammar Really All that Bad?

How much of an impact can poor spelling and grammar have on a reader? Is getting it right really that important?

How Bad Can It Really Be?

I recently decided that I had to get to the bottom of this. I wanted to know, from people who regularly receive and read important documents, how they really felt about the ‘odd’ spelling or grammatical error. And so I asked them.

I sent out the following sentence to a small but (from my perspective) influential group of contacts:

Michael and me have decided that the documnet, that we sent you today, is fine and theirs no further need for action.

The people I contacted ranged from company directors to the deputy editor of a newspaper through to a professor of philosophy. I asked each person whether they would question the professionalism of an individual or organisation that communicated this sentence.

A Surprising Amount of Fervour

The feedback I received didn’t surprise me but the fervour of some of the responses did. Every person I quizzed said they’d doubt the professionalism of a person who’d send this through. “Not only that, I would question whether or not the author was competent to review the document mentioned, and would have to follow up with them again to confirm someone competent had reviewed it,” said Dave, chief policy analyst at a high-profile government department.

Company director Marina felt the same way about the errors. “My reaction to the sentence is one of annoyance and the back part of my mind is almost certainly judging them … I wouldn’t hire someone who wrote like that.”

“Even if it were dictated to a totally incompetent typist I would wonder about their selection of staff,” said author and academic philosopher, Rosemary.

We All Make Mistakes

Although everyone I contacted doubted the competence of someone who’d write the ‘offending’ sentence, a couple did express at least a little forgiveness.

“It’s all about context,” replied deputy editor Piers. “We can all make some of those fundamental mistakes and the more comfortable the relationship between correspondents the more you can get away with. The key is to always read over your email before you send it. Poor spelling and grammar always makes the reader feel a little bit superior for not making those silly mistakes themselves.”

My Conclusion on the Importance of Correct Spelling and Grammar

Correct spelling and grammar really do matter — a lot. And checking and rechecking is key.

This guest post is by Write — a world-class plain language consultancy based in New Zealand. Like Eclectic, Write helps individuals and workplaces transform how they communicate. As well as offering insightful consultancy, expert writing services, and bespoke training, Write is the founding sponsor and host of New Zealand’s Plain English Awards. They also write a much-loved blog, where this post first appeared.

Is Email Always My Best Option?

Email is probably the most commonly used form of written communication in the business world today. Sometimes, it’s too common. There are times when email is not the best or most efficient way to convey your message.

See our chart below for the best times to use email and the best times not to use email.

Use Email When You… Don’t Use Email When You…
Send a message to a large group Require an immediate response
Provide information that requires no action Need to send a long message
Send attachments Want to ensure intent/emotions come across clearly
Want a written record of discussions Discuss a complex topic or any topic where you expect a lot of back and forth conversation
Need to accommodate alternate schedules
(shift work or time zone differences)
Send sensitive or confidential information
Schedule meetings Communicate with someone who doesn’t have easy access to email or has indicated they don’t want email communication

If you have decided email is not your best option, you will need to decide the best way to communicate your message. This may end up not being a written message at all. There are times when phone conversations, meetings, or face-to-face discussions are the most efficient and effective way to communicate.

Want to Write Attention-Getting Documents? Focus on Your Reader

 

We have a tendency to focus on our own perspectives when completing tasks, including writing our business documents. But the best documents (the ones that capture the most attention) focus on the reader’s point of view instead.

How can you ensure your documents focus on your reader? Create a reader profile.

First, ask yourself who the likely reader is for your document. Are you writing to one specific person or a larger general audience? Once you have your reader in mind, you can ask yourself a series of questions. 

Questions to Help You Create Your Reader Profile:

  • What does my reader already know?
  • Will my reader have the knowledge to fully understand the document’s purpose and subject matter?
  • Does my reader have any preconceived views?
  • How will my reader react to this information?
  • What will my reader need to do with this document?
  • How can I make this document understandable for my reader?​

To answer these questions, you can research your reader, but you will also likely need to make educated guesses for at least some of the answers.

Once you have your reader profile, you can use this information to develop your content and organize your document according to your reader’s needs and wants.

Motivating Writers Through Positive And Constructive Feedback

Most organizations don’t have professional editors on staff.  And while many strong writers are also strong editors, editing does represent a unique skill set that not everyone excels at without specific training. When you edit, you want to ensure the document is accurate, is easy for the audience to read and understand, is free of spelling and grammatical errors, and has a layout that enhances readability. 
 

Editing Checklists are useful tools to help you keep your editing tasks on track. A comprehensive checklist helps you focus on all the distinct components that need to be checked so your readers receive an informative and professional document.
 

Checklists as assessment tools

Checklists also have another use: to assess your employees’ writing. Using a checklist lets you physically record a writer’s challenges as well as their strengths. Writers need to know where they need to improve and what they’re doing well to stay motivated. A comprehensive editing checklist helps you do that.

When assessing your writers, keep these points in mind.

  • Use your checklist on three to four different documents for each employee. Assessing more than one document will give a more balanced perspective on the employee’s writing skills. Use the checklist again, after a set period of time (e.g., three to eight weeks), to measure the employee’s improvements. 
  • Praise the strengths. When evaluating, it’s equally important to highlight good writing as well.
  • Avoid overwhelming and discouraging your employees. No one can fix 10 problems at the same time, so pick one or two of the most pressing concerns to start.
  • Go over the editing checklist with each employee and set up a development plan. Offer resources, training and coaching to help motivate your employees to improve.  
 

 

Introducing our Virtual Workshops

Eclectic now offers our business communication courses in a virtual classroom environment. Not sure what virtual classroom means? Watch our three-minute video to understand how our virtual classroom works and why it could be the ideal training option for you.

Register today! Our spring schedule includes:

  • Writing Client-Focused Letters, February 23   
  • Email...Think Before You Hit Send, March 1   
  • Using a Writing Process, March 8 
  • Editing Techniques for Managers, March 22   
  • Solving the Grammar Dilemma, April 5, April 12 and April 19   
  • Writing Proposals that Win Appeal, April 5, April 12 and April 19   
  • The Plain Language Approach to Writing, April 26, May 3 and May 10   
  • Writing Effective Reports, April 26, May 3 and May 10
  • Creating Policy and Procedure Manuals, May 24, May 31 and June 7   

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