Several conversations on Facebook and my experience as an executive over the past 20 years inspired me to write this article. I have spent my career hiring and managing technical, creative and sales personnel for professional services companies. If you can’t communicate clearly, you probably didn’t make it past the initial phone screen. My objective here is to push you just a little bit to improve your English skills.
I have lived all over the country, New England, the South, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest, and have visited every state. You can write in your own style, but that style should be consistent and the grammar correct. The style should be appropriate for the audience. Not everyone is or will be a professional editor—I am certainly not one.
Below I explore excuses I’ve heard, the unrealized impacts, ways to improve, the biggest and most common issues, and some resources to help you out. Finally, always have someone review written pieces for mass consumption or presentation to clients.
Don’t blame me, I’m from the South.
It’s OK to be from the South, and even to express your southern-ness. Y’all is certainly acceptable parlance. I’m not taking issue with where you are from or who raised you, but as an adult, you should be able to communicate your thoughts clearly. Different parts of the country and the world have unique sayings that developed regionally. Soda is fine, pop is fine, sodi-pop and even coke are fine – though you should be specific if you want a Pepsi or a Coke.
This is how I learned.
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. Just because you don’t know the rules doesn’t mean you should not try to improve. There are benefits. Are you a parent? What example are you setting for your children?
It passed spellcheck.
Sure, it’s a valid word. There are over one million words in the English language. Now, did you use that word correctly? Does the sentence you used it in convey your intent?
I was in a hurry.
Use an abbreviated style but take the time to learn good grammar. AFAIK the world is full of TLA’s (As far as I know the world is full of three letter acronyms.)
In addition to your point, what else did you communicate?
What you say can say a lot about you, even if it isn’t true, and even if it has nothing to do with the topic of your communication.
I am not educated
I am unsophisticated
I don’t pay attention to details
I can’t communicate with clients because I will not put the company in a good light
I can’t present, internally or externally
I am poor at sales or selling my ideas
I don’t want to move up in the world
I don’t understand my audience
I don’t care
How to Improve
The first step is to find out if you have a problem. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you are willing to try. People love to help others grow. You can always improve. Spend a few minutes learning each day and it will pay off.
- Ask others what they think of your writing. Ask your friends, relatives, manager or clergy. They will appreciate you opening the door to honest conversation and will often already be able to give you a thumbs up or thumbs down based on past interactions.
- Find a friend or colleague who uses good grammar and ask them to proofread your composition. It could be an email or a paper and ask them to be brutal. However, ask them to indicate what is wrong and why, but not to correct it. That is for you to do.
- Magazines, books, websites. Move past the basic newspaper articles and into op-ed columns or longer articles. Find a topic that you like and read in-depth about it. Explore longer, articles that are more esoteric.
- Read about spelling & grammar. It may be a dry subject to some but if you are interested in improving, there is nothing like going to the source.
- Improve your vocabulary. Start doing crossword puzzles. They typically increase in difficulty each day of the week. Do it with a friend or make it a family project.
- Type “define:grammar” into Google. It will pull up the definition of grammar.
- Sign up for Grammarly.com. You can cut and paste writing into the free tool for feedback, or use the paid service for even more suggestions.
- Form a grammar group – this can be easily adapted to elementary or high school classes. Each person brings in a piece of writing and describes the intended audience.
- Hand your piece to the person on your right and analyze the structure to ensure the message is clear and cohesive and that the style is appropriate for the intended audience.
- Hand the piece to the person to your right and analyze for grammar and spelling issues.
- Hand the piece to the person to your right and review the initial reviewer’s comments for structure, style, grammar, and spelling.
- Hand the piece to your left and review the things you missed as a grammar & spelling reviewer.
- Hand the piece to your left and review the things you missed as a structure & style reviewer.
- Hand the piece back to the original author so that they can see all of the feedback.
- Rework the piece and bring it back for next time, along with a new piece developed based on all of your learnings.
- OPTIONAL: If you have a volunteer (or an English teacher), have them review all of the reviewed pieces to see if anything was missed along the way. They can also serve as a sounding board for questions.
The most common and dreadful issues
There are hundreds of grammar rules; however, my biggest pet peeves are below.
- Spelling & capitalization. When should I capitalize “dad”? How do I spell alliteration?
- Homophones. The ever popular “their/there/they’re” or “your/you’re” conundrum.
- Tenses. “I done good on the test,” versus “I did well on the test,” and “I saw,” versus “I seen.”
- Subject-Verb Agreement. “We is going to the show.”-Incorrect, “I am going to the show.”-Correct, “They are going to the show.”-Correct
- It’s about Its. If you are abbreviating “it is” or “it has”, use the apostrophe. Abandon it all other times when dealing with “its”.
Explore and learn. And, maybe improved grammar will provide the edge you need to get that promotion!