Monday, May 13, 2013

What Does Grammar Have to Do with Anything?

by Vivian Zabel  

    A while back,  I wrote about the need for writers and/or editors to use good grammar whenever they write (check for article here). Some people argued that worrying about grammar stifles creativity. I disagree, and I'm not the only one.  Using correct grammar adds to a person's qualifications and credibility.

    In that article I briefly mentioned that often people in business are promoted, or not, based on their grammar usage. Oh, my, one would think I had torn a hole in a valuable painting. However, my research shows I'm correct.
     Some writers fight the idea that grammar (including sentence structure, punctuation, subject/verb agreement, pronoun usage, spelling, etc.) impacts the worthiness of writing, which is like saying failing to lay a solid foundation does not impact the stability of a building. However, many people don’t realize that the use of grammar influences a person’s future in business from being hired, to receiving promotions, to validity as a professional.

      Speech and English instructors inform students that how they speak and how they use their language can determine whether an employer hires them or not. Many applications include the need to write a paragraph. Those who evaluate the applications read the paragraph to gain knowledge of the applicants education in language usage. During an interview, if an applicant uses correct grammar and word usage, he will be considered over another applicant with the same credentials but poor grammar and speaking ability. A person doing the interview will become distracted by incorrect grammar and rough speaking patterns, and the applicant loses in the process.

    According to Naphtalia Leba as well as other experts, poor grammar and word choice leads to unclear communication. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, (Harvard Business Review, July 20, 2012) states he will not hire people who use poor grammar. “I have a zero tolerance approach to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.”

       Once a person is hired for a position, he faces the possibility of promotion and pay raises. Kyle Wiens’ article includes the following:
           Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just

       when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn’t in
       the official job description of most people in our
       office. Still, we give our grammar test to
       everybody, including our salespeople, our operations
       staff, and our programmers.

      He continues to show that grammar does have something to do with job performance, creativity, and intelligence. If someone can’t properly use “it’s” after many years, then that person has a defective learning curve. People who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test make fewer mistakes in other activities not related to writing, such as stocking shelves or labeling parts. People who care about grammar (the details of good writing) also care about other details.

     Cheryl Conner, in her article for Forbes (March 11, 2013), gave the results of a study involving English-speakers in industry. 1. Professionals with fewer grammar errors in their profiles had achieved higher positions. 2. Fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions. She cites Brad Hoover, CEO of Top Ten Reviews who says grammar skills indicate the following positive workplace traits: Attention to detail; critical thinking; and intellectual aptitude.

     The use of poor punctuation, grammar, and word choice leads to unclear communication. If a person’s writing is confusing, if his spoken words are unclear, confidence in him will be poor, too. The adherence to the “rules” helps build a positive impression involving client relationships, communicating with co-workers, and impressing employers.

     As Naphtalia Leba  added, “Unclear, confusing or ambiguous writing causes misunderstanding and misinterpretations. These can lead to costly mistakes, hurt feelings, lost money, and legal issues.” The same is true of unclear, confusing or ambiguous speech.

    Proper grammar usage is important not only in writing stories, novels, and other books, but also for writing in business and for use in speaking.  


  1. I completely agree. When speaking to someone new, someone I don't have the luxury of knowing any background on, I automatically judge their intelligence by how well they speak, same with the written word.

    I assume the majority of society judges the same way.

  2. I also totally agree. Good grammar and punctuation are the set design for the drama that a writer puts before an audience. Without that solid background the story can lose the reader at the first paragraph.

  3. More and more, people are arguing against the use of proper grammar in writing or in speaking. Just listen to the reporters and commentators on television.

    Of course, often English teachers teach only literature, not grammar and not writing. Our young people, and some older folks, read garbage (and I'm not talking about content) and think it's great writing because they don't know the difference. Sad.

  4. I agree. Good grammar and creativity are not mutually exclusive!

  5. Good grammar and punctuation sets you apart. It tells the world you're a writer who takes pride in the craft.

    I see so many errors in everything from bill boards to television. It's just sad.

    Vivian, I love the building foundation analogy.

  6. I have taught and tried to teach people the importance of using correct grammar. Some listen, but many don't. *sigh*