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Spelling: It’s The Principal (sic) Of The Thing

I have been looking at some CVs for a job I am advertising at the moment. Frankly, my dears, it has been a deeply depressing experience. The ability to write an accurate, clear and straightforward piece of prose seems to have become appallingly elusive.

All of us need the ability to use and understand conventional, written English. At the very least, it helps you read the fine print in a utility bill and to write a well-constructed, sensible letter to your insurance company if you need to do so.

How do you rate yourself as a writer of basic prose? Try these. When should you use a capital letter? When should you use a full stop? When should you use “too” and when “to”? Do you know the difference between principle and principal? If you don’t and you’re over the age of 18, you really should. Being able to write accurately and clearly (and that includes a broad vocabulary and spelling ability) is not just essential for good progression in the workplace, it’s an essential life skill. For information a principle is a noun and it is defined as follows. A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning. A rule or belief governing one's personal behaviour. A principal can be an adjective or a noun. As an adjective it means “First in order of importance; or main.” As a noun it means “The person with the highest authority or most important position in an organisation.”

I’m happy to explain the rest too if you want me to do so! I won’t do so here as it’ll take too much space.

I don’t feel that I have a particularly good knowledge of English grammar. When I was going through school the teaching of grammar was regarded as boring and fearfully old hat. The current thinking (then) was to be all touchy-feely, but there was no discussion about subject, object, noun, adjective, preposition etc. So what I did manage to learn was done by absorbing good literature. As the daughter of an English teacher Jane Austin, the Brontës, Geroge Eliot, Graham Greene, Barbara Pym etc were all required reading. It’s probably why my language is precise but occasionally sounds a bit eighteenth century! To this day, all our trainees are asked to plough through some of these classics and then write a piece of prose every day to develop a good style. It works.

As she grew older, my mother (the English teacher) became something of an eccentric. It galled her terribly to see incorrect grammar and she especially hated the use of apostrophes to create a plural e.g. “dog’s”. The writer meant to indicate that there was more than one dog but what he has actually written is the possessive i.e. “of the dog”. She used to scribble these errors out muttering “illiterates!” as she did so. How she wasn’t clobbered by some irate shop owner whose sign she had vandalised beats me.

I don’t advocate such vigilante action, but I agree that the standard of written communication needs to be raised. If a sentence is expressed inaccurately or carelessly, it can change the meaning – and if you’re dealing with employment contracts or other legal documents as we do, that can be a serious matter. Here’s an example:

“Let’s eat grandpa!”

Poor grandpa…. What was really meant of was “Let’s eat, grandpa!”

An example of a comma saving the dear old man’s life.

Punctuation errors, bad grammar, poor vocabulary are everywhere - from family holiday letters (where it doesn’t matter all that much),to CVs submitted in job applications, to writing a business letter. Poor writing skills means that the communication is likely to be less clear, more rambling, less engaging. The ability to express yourself clearly and accurately means you are more likely to be succinct (HR documents are notoriously long-winded),able to write in an interesting, varied and engaging manner, are more likely to be taken seriously, and less likely to be misunderstood.

If you need clarity in the complex world of HR, give us a call!

We are also looking for a new trainee HR Consultant as our delightful Lilly is leaving us for a break before going back to uni. Do mention this to anyone who might be interested and we can send an information pack.

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