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Posted by & filed under Editing, Effective Writing.

“Grammar, grammar, who cares?” business professionals sometimes mumble. Well, you would be surprised at how many people do care, even those who are not writers. Don Ranley’s article on www.Ragan.com, titled “Seven Myths about Grammar,” touches on a few important points.

Grammar and punctuation are important because they serve as the “cement” that holds the bricks together. It might seem like an overwhelming collection of prescriptive rules, but there really are six or seven principles that are most important, and anyone who wants a two-page handout listing them can send me an e-mail at Ken@WritingWithClarity.com. And no, the rules haven’t changed, as people often say. The key principles of grammar have been in place for a few hundred years. What changes is the person giving you the advice. Many people are well-intentioned. They are trying to give you the right answer, but they often are recalling something they heard years ago. They don’t really understand the issue completely, and they haven’t looked it up.

We try to stay sharp about the key grammatical guidelines for two reasons:

  1. Sentence clarity. Every language has its grammar, its inherent structural rules, because those ensure that people understand each other when they communicate.
  2. Our credibility. And your credibility can plunge when readers or listeners notice conspicuous flaws that simply shouldn’t be there.

Try these two tips to improve your grammar when writing in spaces such as e-mails, memos, resumes, and cover letters:

  1. Relax. Grammar is not as difficult as people make it out to be. Yes, there are numerous guidelines, but this is not nuclear physics. Just keep looking things up, and you will commit the information to memory. That’s how we get better at things.
  2. Practice. Most people struggle with grammar and punctuation not because they are dumb but because they don’t put in the effort to use resources (books or online sites) or ask colleagues who are knowledgeable about this sort of thing. Consequently, they continue to make the same embarrassing mistakes for years, even in important documents and resume cover letters. No one is suggesting that you commit yourself to a life of linguistics; just make a consistent effort.

The often-heard line, “People don’t care anymore anyway,” is a myth. Most people do wince at the sight of glaring errors, and you never know who the reader is. It might be someone who will influence your next career move. The person doesn’t need to know exactly what the grammatical problem is. If she simply knows intuitively that it’s a mistake, that’s all she needs to know.

 

Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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