Amateurs think standard English matters only in school

The Harvard Business Review blog network recently featured a piece by Kyle Wiens called I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why. Wiens runs two companies, and both focus on technical communication. But he makes a good argument about why what he calls “grammar” matters in any workplace.

Grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re. . . I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.

I can’t judge the tests Wiens uses because I haven’t seen them. But I can guarantee that his sentiments are widely held. Your written language choices establish your ethos (credibility).

One relevant research study by Larry Beason showed that business folks make three types of judgments about the person who uses non-standard English:

  1. As a writer, the person is careless or uninformed.
  2. As a professional, the person demonstrates faulty thinking, is not a detail person, or is poorly educated.
  3. As an organizational representative, the person conveys the wrong message to customers or in court.

Like it or not. People are judging you. Pros make sure they manage those judgments. But not all “errors” are judged equally. So I’m planning a short video tutorial on the non-standard English mechanics that are most irksome to business readers. I’ll say more about the research behind those choices later. The tutorial will refer to an Internship Application Letter adapted from a sample available on Monster.com. The rhetorical context can be described as:

  • Writer: a college student
  • Readers: a finance manager, who has hired interns from the writer’s school in the past
  • Bottom Line Message: grant me an interview for an internship position

Stay tuned . . .

One thought on “Amateurs think standard English matters only in school

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s