Details Matter: In Defence of Grammar Police

I “could care less” (watch the video for an explanation of what I really mean when I say that) about the grammar police.

Do they drive you up the wall? You wouldn’t be the only one. All you have to do is visit a discussion board wherein some unfortunate soul uses “there” in place of “they’re,” totally distracting from an otherwise coherent and possibly even convincing argument. The lightning-speed with which someone will point out their fatal grammatical flaw, utterly destroying any shred of credibility that poster may have otherwise had, is remarkable. It’s almost like a race to see who can point out the linguistic flaws in a post, particularly when a strong opinion is espoused. Such is the power of the Grammar Police.

Image via Wikipedia

Of course, there is usually a counter-reaction that takes place. One who points out another’s spelling or grammatical mistakes is often ostracized for doing so, especially if they come off as holier-than-thou or project an inordinate amount of lexical righteousness. Lord help them if they make their own spelling or grammar mistake whilst pointing out someone else’s – although delightfully ironic, the ensuing flame-fest can be a disappointing reminder of the depths we can sink to when given anonymity and a place to vent.

Grammar police can be annoying. Infuriating, even.

Yet, I can’t help but feel a small triumph whenever someone exposes themselves as  actually caring about proper spelling and grammar. In this day and age, it’s becoming more and more rare to see people upholding the belief that these details matter. That how we communicate in writing has a great effect on how we are perceived (or not) as credible, intelligent, and worthy of respect. That to begin compromising on something so basic, so fundamental, is the first step towards the erosion of something much larger.

But that’s conceptual, abstract. In a very practical sense, the details matter. Just ask any recruiter or human resources professional whether they’re hiring decisions have been influenced by spelling and grammar mistakes. I’ve seen people taken out of the running for jobs due to spelling and grammatical errors in their application packages first-hand.

Does that sound ridiculous? If so, think about what it means to be a professional.

To be a professional means that you project a sense and an image of professionalism to the world. In a scenario in which people have to make quick judgments on your professionalism based on a relatively small amount of information (i.e. the hiring process), any sign that points to a lack of professionalism will be highlighted and extended beyond the scope of that small amount of information.

Essentially, grammatical errors mean you lack attention to detail. They mean that you’ll make the same sorts of mistakes in other written communication, such as emails to clients or stakeholders – and that your lack of attention to detail and consequent loss of professionalism now extends to the organization responsible for hiring you, who you are representing.

Even though our world is becoming increasingly digitized and means of communication are becoming shorter and quicker, there’s still every reason to remain vigilant when it comes to how you are coming across. Spelling and grammar errors still stand out on twitter – they just stand out faster and take up less space.

And does it actually save you that much time to type “gr8” instead of “great” anyway? I don’t know about you, but typing “gr8” involves using two different keyboards on my phone. Just doesn’t make sense.

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.