This is probably the most dangerous column I have ever written. 

Dangerous because I’m about to discuss a topic that could see me sounding condescending, pedantic, a know-it-all or just someone that you really wouldn’t to get stuck with at a party (remember parties?).

I’d like to think I’m none of those things, although others – especially my children – may beg to differ.

The subject matter is communication and in particular the written word. Let’s be honest, none of us are absolutely perfect at it.

This page is bound to have grammatical errors (hopefully no spelling ones) and there’ll be differences of opinion between people about how I should have phrased a sentence, or used a different word.

Language constantly evolves as does the way we use it. However, there are certain rules we use to guide us. And the rules, I think, have an accepted sliding scale of importance.

For example, a mass of words with no punctuation is impossible to read and make sense of. If, for instance, you had an online discussion and you posted a 1,000-word rebuttal with no full stops, commas or apostrophes your point may be a winner in your head but no one else would have a clue what you were on about.

If, though, you smashed your punctuation but mixed up ‘your’ ‘you’re’ and ‘you are’ throughout the thread then it would be pedantic in the extreme for your opponent to use this against you rather than addressing your argument. Side-note: a quick check of Twitter will show you that people do enjoy being this picky.

What I’m trying to say is that we all know we’re not Charles Dickens, but equally we’re loathed to accept that our written communication is poor in the same way that we’d defer to someone who is excellent at mental arithmetic.

We wouldn’t give a wrong answer to a complicated sum and then say ‘oh you knew what I was on about!’ It’s either right or it’s wrong and we know our limitations.

In a WhatsApp message to a friend or a Facebook comment it doesn’t really matter whether your spelling or grammar is spot on. Personal pride may dictate that you don’t like to make mistakes but, really, who cares.

Professionally is where people need the help of experts. It is not only the language used (correctly, of course) that is important, but it is also the overall message.

You may think you know what you’re trying to say, but does your audience? Can your message be misconstrued, misunderstood or taken out of context? What may have seemed a good idea in your head can come across horribly when committed to paper or screen.

This column rarely touts for business and I am not doing so on this occasion. But, please, consider using experts when constructing a message to customers or stakeholders as it’s bloody difficult to dig yourself out of a hole.

Got views of your own? Let me know:
richard@unltdbusiness.com
LinkedIn: Richard Fidler

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