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Grammar in the Digital Age

Business Writing With PrecisionFor most of us, learning grammar in school was pretty straightforward: ‘i’ came before ‘e’ (except after ‘c,’ of course), you never ended a sentence with a preposition, and you didn’t need an Oxford comma (a hot-button topic among writers). But thanks to social media and texting, today most grammar mechanics are viewed as suggestions rather than rules in favor of what sounds snappy or looks good in 140 characters. This decline applies to personal and professional spheres. If we’re not careful, the next generation will sound more like Derek Zoolander and write entire sentences constructed solely with emoticons and hashtags. Even as I write this post, I wonder how much of my writing has been affected and whether or not I even can spot the grammatical offenses anymore. So, does proper grammar still have a place in our lives? Absolutely! Here are three reasons why you should hold onto your Elements of Style—especially in the digital age.

Authority:

I used to upload press releases to a client’s website. Normally, it was a straightforward process, but there was one public relations specialist whose releases I always had to read with a fine-tooth comb. Why? Because her releases usually had more than one mistake. In fact, almost every release contained some form of error. I realize we’re all human and mistakes happen even to the most conscientious person, but when you’re positioning yourself as a professional or an authority on a topic, you need to ensure what you write reflects that. Otherwise, no one will take you seriously, or worse, not give you any space in their publication.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T:

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin sang about it and the only way to earn it is through hard work and due diligence. Piggybacking off my first point, when you send out something riddled with errors, your grammar snob friends are probably silently judging you and any potential professional contacts just wrote you off as lazy and incompetent.

Clarity:

This point touches on one of the examples I mentioned in the opening paragraph: the Oxford (or serial) comma. Growing up, the majority of us were schooled in English class that we didn’t need to place a comma before ‘and’ when listing items in a sentence. AP Style, the style guide most journalists adhere to, also likes its sentences Oxford comma free. Here’s where it could make a difference in the message you’re trying to convey:

Sentence #1 – I love my parents, Meryl Streep and Michael Bublé.

Sentence #2 – I love my parents, Meryl Streep, and Michael Bublé.

As you can see from the examples above, the first sentence makes it sound like Meryl Streep and Michael Bublé are your parents, while the second sentence with the Oxford comma makes it clear you are referencing your love for your parents, Meryl Streep, and Michael Bublé. Always keep your reading audience in mind when writing. This will help alleviate most, if not all, confusion so your point can be succinctly communicated.  

Take Dad’s Advice:

My dad taught woodworking for over 30 years and always told his students, ‘Measure twice. Cut once.’ He knew the importance of taking the time to make sure a project was done the right way, the first time. The same principle applies to writing—even more so in the age of the Internet—where whatever you write goes on to live forever. That includes any mistakes. So, take your time writing, proofreading, and editing. And if you’re not sure if a sentence structure makes sense, whip out your go-to style guide, or get a second opinion from a trusted colleague. Because in the long run, proper grammar is no LOL matter.

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