Writing at Work    

Why Grammar and Punctuation Matter














Split infinitives, dangling participles, comma splices, and adverbial phrases are enough to derail anyone's credibility. If we had just learned grammar and punctuation along with introductory chemistry in college, we all would be fine right now. But unfortunately, many of us did not study our language in college, and instead reverted to the memories of diagramming sentences and knuckle-slapping grammarians. Now, business leaders, sadly and sometimes solely, leave quality control up to a computer's grammar and spell check.

Automated grammar and spell checks are useful, but at times inconsistent, incorrect, and incomprehensible to users. Nothing can replace a good, old-fashioned proofreading. The good news: the rules don't require extensive study and research. Most can be found in one grammar book, possibly one from high school. Here are some recommended texts.

But why does it matter, you ask? Four Cs comprise the answer:

Cosmetics: Do you buy a car or a house with a lousy paint job? Writing has curb appeal. A house can provide shelter; a car, transportation. But when you get something wrong—paint splotches on the floor or commas in the wrong place—it looks bad.

Clarity: A comma in the wrong place may look bad and seem harmless, but poor grammar or mispunctuation can make a message difficult to understand or express a meaning different than intended. "The manager was whispering so we couldn't hear her" or "The manager was whispering, so we couldn't hear her." Depending on the comma, what's the meaning? Was the writer snidely stating why the manager was whispering or explaining why the writer couldn't hear her?

Credibility: How many websites, commercials, brochures, or resumes boast attention to detail or highest quality, yet contain sentence fragments and misstatements? What price do you pay for your own or your company's credibility?

Courtesy: In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a humorous rant on poor punctuation, British writer Lynne Truss cites a newspaper style book quotation about punctuation: It is "a courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling." What's it like when you have had to read, like a grade school exercise, a memo or full report that didn't have punctuation—from commas to capital letters? Frustrating and darned rude of the writer. The courtesy analogy applies to all aspects of writing. Isn't it rude if you send someone a message that's too long, loaded with fluff and jargon, poorly organized, or the tone blunt? Courtesy is important—in your business and business communications.


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