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Gini Dietrich

Poor Grammar Sucks: Four Resources for Better Writing

By: Gini Dietrich | November 28, 2012 | 
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Last night I took an overnight international flight and had all of three hours of sleep. But the sun is rising in the United Kingdom and it’s already Wednesday while most of you are still sleeping away Tuesday.

During the flight, I had an amazing customer experience. I don’t know if it’s because the cabin crew for British Airways is that much better than American flight attendants or if it’s because I kept hearing “Ms. Dietrich” in that beautiful British accent. Maybe it was both.

And now, as I await my flight to Amsterdam from Heathrow, I am eavesdropping on conversations, that accent lilting into my ears like a Chopin concerto.

As the British speak to one another – and to me – I’ve noticed something really interesting: Their grammar is immaculate.

How is it Americans have become so lazy when we speak and write? We can’t blame it on texting; the Brits also text. Perhaps it’s just a cultural thing.

Poor Grammar Sucks

As I ponder this question, I’m reminded of an article written by iFixit CEO, Kyle Wiens. Titled, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar,” it describes why he won’t hire anyone who “doesn’t know the difference between to and too.”

Of course, it makes sense. iFixit writes repair manuals so his people need to be good writers. Like Wiens, we won’t hire anyone who can’t write well. And, although everyone here writes very well, they are put through an intense editing process that makes them even better. Ask Yvette Pistorio how she, after working with us for several months, now feels about passive voice, prepositions, and punctuation.

But what about the rest of the business world?

Lynne Truss, the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, thinks anyone with poor grammar, “deserves to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot, and buried in an unmarked grave.”

While that might be going a little bit too far, it is time for every, single person who communicates via the written word in the business world to figure out the difference between there, their, and they’re.

The thing is, good grammar adds credibility, especially on the web. If you type “your” when you mean “you’re,” you lose instant credibility with your fans, followers, connections, clients, prospects, employees, and your mom. You’d better hope your ninth grade English teacher doesn’t follow you or your death might be imminent.

There are lots and lots of resources to help you, if you’ve forgotten your high school English. Truss’s book is the best; it belongs in every office in the world. You can also subscribe to Grammar Girl, buy yourself an AP Stylebook (or subscribe online), or buy the Guide to Better Business Writing from Harvard Business Review.

Now I leave it to you. What grammar tips do you have?

Thanks to Jeffrey Hill for the image.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

85 comments
ColleenConger
ColleenConger

Hail to all of us that believe in good grammar! Being a graphic designer solopreneur, I don't have an extra pair of eyes to proof my work. To double (and sometimes triple check) my work, I've started reading all the text in my designs out loud - sometimes several times (because I'm a little OCD.)  I sincerely believe that doing this activates a different part of my brain and makes me slow down and take notice of how the design will sound to someone reading it to themselves.And here's a side note story - I recently contacted a billboard company that had a typo on one of their billboards. I've have an overactive proofreading gene so when I notice typos, I usually sigh and shrug and go about my day. However, this billboard was advertising how great the local "elementery" school was. Gah! The worst thing was that no one had noticed the typo in over two years! I finally tracked down the billboard company and they promptly corrected the misspelled word. I guess I impressed them somehow because I'm now their lead designer and have been for the past two years :-D

AlyssaColton1
AlyssaColton1

My bugaboo is the proper use of apostrophes. It drives me crazy when I see apostrophes used for plurals: "shoe's on sale". Yikes!

I tell my students that sometimes grammar rules change. But in this case, it might cause confused, though unfortunately we (in America at least) seem to be used to it.

wgmccoll
wgmccoll

I always felt the gold standard on this topic is "Strictly Speaking" by the late NBC newsman Edwin Newman.  I read that as a teenager and have never forgotten his railing against the incorrect use of "hopefully" and that when things don't go your way, you feel bad, not badly!    

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@secretsushi Where in the world is Adam?

AmeenaFalchetto1
AmeenaFalchetto1

I am wondering if it's the British accent that blinds you to the grammatical mistakes. I know it can be a saving grace when I'm over your side of the pond!

ErinMFeldman
ErinMFeldman

@barrettrossie Oh my. This could be a good or bad thing.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Gini, this would be a great post even if it was written on a full eight hours of sleep.  

One of my all-time favorite books on writing falls into the category of inspiration rather than resource. It's "The Writer's Art" by the late James J. Kilpatrick. He has chapters with names like "How Fares the English Language?" and "The Things We Ought Not To Do." I couldn't write like that even if I were just trying to imitate. Fortunately, the book is back in print again, but you can get a used copy practically free through Amazon or Better World Books. 

I'd also suggest a blog by our pal @erinmfeldman -- Write Right Words -- http://www.writerightwords.com/. Sometimes she writes about writing, and other times she just provided a great example by writing well. 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Yes this! My only tip is practice good writing and grammar. Don't use the dreaded text slanguage! 

lynnie the pooh
lynnie the pooh

My favorite grammar resource is The Careful Writer by Theodore M. Bernstein.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

But do you penalize someone who says Pah-Cahn vs Pee-Can?

 

I hear they closed the coffee shops to tourists but I am sure I can find you an underground rave club. Let me ask some people.

 

Sincerely

 

Yo Use Guys

samfiorella
samfiorella

@AlisonWordsmith Heh, well, I know how you feel about MY poor grammar! #bizforum @ginidietrich

samfiorella
samfiorella

@AlisonWordsmith Heh, well, I know you feel about MY poor grammar! #bizforum

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@LGM_PR @LouHoffman All these poor people are going to die because of poor grammar!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@amberbluemedia Jeez! You get lots of RTs!

stevenmcoyle
stevenmcoyle

My favorite joke from this year's election is: "You're mad at President Obama for not fixing the economy in four years? You've been in college for four years and don't the difference between "your" and "you're", "to" and "too," "its" and "it's" or "there", "their" and "they're."

 

I think somewhere early on, say middle school, the focus on grammar is lost. As students enter high school, they're forced to learn different "styles" of writing, which takes the focus off grammar. This same issue is repeated in college, MLA vs APA vs AP, etc. They all have different rules. Why isn't there one standard for writing? 

 

 

lynnie the pooh
lynnie the pooh

 @AlyssaColton1 I'm with you, Alyssa.  I'm especially dismayed by advertising that uses improper grammar, because that tends to institutionalize the usage.  Can you imagine a company paying its marketing people for some of the horrible grammar we see in ads?  I have to admit, my friends call me "Mrs. Thistlebottom," because I edit the newspaper as I read it and once sent a book back to its publisher totally blue- pencilled.

secretsushi
secretsushi

@ginidietrich still abroad, but NOT a broad.

SarahRobinson
SarahRobinson

@ginidietrich Isn't it like the middle of the night where you are???

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @RebeccaTodd I like the text slang in casual conversation (I think it's hilarious to say LOL) is fine, but not when you're writing for business. You will see it in a blog post from me every once in a while, but I use it to create emphasis.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @HowieG Penalties are in full force for saying "pee-can" in Texas. I thought you should know in case you ever visit.

Latest blog post: Tone is Everywhere

lttlewys
lttlewys

@samfiorella Sheeesh!! Poor grammar again?? Good thing you have @AlisonWordsmith @ginidietrich to keep you on your game!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @stevenmcoyle That is hilarious! I didn't hear that joke. Freaking priceless! And on the standards...when we wrote Marketing in the Round, they wanted us to write in Chicago style. It was hard after all these years of writing AP style.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@SarahRobinson No! It's 6 p.m. I'm only 4,000 miles away. Not on the other side of the world.

AmeenaFalchetto1
AmeenaFalchetto1

 @ginidietrich I do have to admit that American English is difficult to understand at times. There are phrases that sound so bizarre. Oh, and let's not get into the spelling mistakes/differences. 

samfiorella
samfiorella

@lttlewys I know. @AlisonWordsmith has been beating me with a stick everytime I put punctuation outside of quotations! @ginidietrich

secretsushi
secretsushi

@ginidietrich whatcha doin there? You're not too far, but not too close.

ariherzog
ariherzog

@ginidietrich What brings you to Amsterdam? See Anne Frank yet?

SarahRobinson
SarahRobinson

@ginidietrich I thought amsterdam was further than that.....Have you eaten Reistaffle yet? TUMMY!!

AlisonWordsmith
AlisonWordsmith

@samfiorella @lttlewys And it's every time, not everytime. Just sayin'... @ginidietrich

lttlewys
lttlewys

@samfiorella Well, DUH! Where do you think @AlisonWordsmith got that stick!! *smirk* Sent her mine!! @ginidietrich

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