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English as She Should be Writ

Last week a marketing company posted two short pieces of work on my behalf on our new LinkedIn company page. They were very short; each posting was about seven lines long. Despite this they were both riddled with errors.

The first post had one grammatical error, one factual error and used two exclamation marks at the end of one sentence. They were clearly confusing my style with a red top tabloid. I rarely use exclamation marks in workplace writing, never mind two in the same sentence. You know the type of thing: “Elvis is alive and living on Mars!! Yay!!” Yuk.

After reading the first offering I sighed, sent corrections and thought “They’re new ... Maybe they’ll get to grips with it”. The second posting - about two hours later - had six grammatical mistakes (one of which repeated the first grammatical error) and a further factual error. Good grief.

I fired them at that stage, remarking with some asperity that it wasn’t my intention to appear illiterate in the eyes of the world. Despite this display of astonishing incompetence, they still had the nerve to demand payment. (Should you wish to know which marketing agency in Huntingdon to avoid drop me a line and I’ll tell you privately.)

I grew up at a time when students weren’t taught grammar. It was all about creative writing. Creativity is fine so long as you can spell and know how to use full stops and commas. Even quite well educated people seem to use them interchangeably.

They are not the same! A comma (or lack of one) in the wrong place really does change the meaning of a sentence. Take this actual example from the list of hobbies on a student’s CV.

“Interests include: Cooking dogs, shopping, dancing, reading, watching movies …” Oh dear. The missing comma after “cooking” makes this list of hobbies look rather gruesome .

Employees are always complaining that workplace communication is poor. Employers regularly say that employees don’t listen or don’t do the right thing. Since employers have a duty to communicate their workplace standards clearly and precisely, it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

Poor writing is worse than just irritating. It’s potentially dangerous because it’s unclear.

  • Before you write anything be clear what you want to write about and have an outline of the piece you want to write.
  • It can be helpful to write one-sentence paragraphs. Single-sentence paragraphs cause the eye to: stop ... read ... and understand.
  • Make your sentences short. They are easier to understand and more dynamic. Strip out the verbiage and avoid unnecessary padding, for example:
       - Adverbs: actually, currently, really, literally
       - Adjectives: very, real, simple
       - Other filler words: perhaps, pretty, now, that, in order, just, maybe
  • Use simple, everyday words.

If you can write concise, clear and easy-to-understand content, it become much easier for people to read, understand and apply it. Clear writing is powerful, compelling - and essential.

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