Tag Archives: grammar

Punctuation and gRammar


Now that the last vestiges of the first 2016 presidential debate have left Hofstra, it’s time to turn from politics to one of my favorite topics–punctuation and grammar.

its-vs-its

Reading students’ anonymous evaluations this week on my teaching revealed observations about how “strict” I am regarding their writing. They generally seemed grateful for my approach; one student even wrote, “I needed it.”

I often tell the story about how I lost a valuable client when a colleague misspelled the CEO’s name in a draft of a press release. “One of the easiest ways to discount your business’ credibility is to fall victim to spelling errors and poor grammar,” wrote marketing professional Carly Stec. “If your content is plagued by poor grammar, it’s likely that people will think twice about the quality of your products or services.”

The same goes for one’s professional reputation. John Boitnott of Entrepreneur recently wrote, “While it may not seem like a major concern, making even the smallest of mistakes when composing written messages can have a major impact on our careers, since poor writing skills can give colleagues and customers the impression that we’re not really educated or skilled enough to do our jobs properly.”

iFixit CEO Kyle Weins also takes grammar seriously. In his article, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why,” he said, “My zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He added, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing…I hire people who care about those details.  Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other things also aren’t important.” Weins gives a grammar test to every job applicant.

Yes, I can be aggressive when it comes to punctuation and grammar, but I hope my public relations students understand when I correct their writing, it’s just tough love. After all, I’m only concerned about their future success. Your thoughts?

(photo above from Brightside)

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Misused aPostRophes


Apostrophe

Window signage spotted in an outdoor mall in Miami

Why do misused apostrophes and other poor punctuation drive me so crazy?  Why does bad grammar–at least in written form–make me batty? As I noted in a blog post about three years ago and repeatedly since then, I’m a stickler for writing right, partially because employers demand it.

Well, maybe most employers demand it, but apparently someone in charge at American Eagle Outfitters’ corporate office does not, or worse, doesn’t know the difference. During my spring break vacation this week, I spotted yet another of the so many incorrect apostrophes which seem to be plaguing signage and ads everywhere (see the photo, left).

Grammar picGrammar mistakes abound as well. We generally can forgive poor grammar when we’re having a casual conversation, but when we see it in signs (see photo, right), papers or even resumes, the results can be comical and often costly.

It’s a point well made in a 2012 article by iFixit CEO Kyle Weins titled, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.”  Weins gives a mandatory grammar test to every applicant. “On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair,” he wrote. “After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He goes on to say, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing…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 resumes.  Sloppy is as sloppy does.”

Weins’ point could not be more important to anyone working in public relations or any communication-related field.  Proper grammar and punctuation are essential, and mistakes can cost you your job–or prevent you from getting a job in the first place.  If you’re not good with grammar and punctuation, become good.  If you’re good, get better. For a PR practitioner, it’s essential.  Your thoughts?

PRoactive, passionate, and calm


PR News' Matthew Schwartz

PR News’ Matthew Schwartz

I’m a stickler for writing right, partially because employers demand it.  It’s a point made in an article written in 2012 by iFixit CEO Kyle Weins, titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.”  Weins gives a mandatory grammar test to every applicant. “On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair,” he wrote. “After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He goes on to say, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.  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 resumes.  After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.”

I rather enjoyed Matthew Schwartz’s column in PR News last week titled, “What Makes a Great PR Employee: Let Us Count the Ways.”  Schwartz solicited responses to that question via PR News’ Facebook and Twitter and the feedback was interesting, revealing, and accurate.  Here are some of the Twitter responses:

A great employee…

  • Always shows passion.
  • Is an opportunist, and goes above and beyond expectations.
  • Is calm, cool, and collected.
  • Understands their role in the success of their employer.
  • Is open to criticism.
  • Is willing to see an issue from other viewpoints.
  • Is always proactive, considers his customer’s problem as his own problem, (and) always reacts before the crisis shows up.
  • Always puts the needs of their clients above their own.
  • Always provide best, honest advice to clients.
  • Goes for it and sticks with it and challenges the conventional.

So, after reading this, what would you add to the list?  What other characteristics make a great PR employee?  Which do you possess–or need?  Your thoughts?

On hyPeR-commas and misused colons


I remember reading notes my kids would bring home from school. The notes would often contain misspellings and poor punctuation. Sadly, these were the notes written to parents–by teachers.

This is why I worry about my students.  From freshmen to seniors, many have challenges writing well.  I believe the problem stems from being taught by teachers with just so-so abilities at written English; these students also suffer from a general lack of reading.

I’m quick to point out when students write with what I call “hyper-commas” (too many commas where they don’t belong), or not enough commas, or misused colons and semi-colons, or lower case proper nouns, or periods outside the quotation marks.  I cringe when I see “it’s” or “there” when it should read “its” or “their.” Run-on sentences tend to make me crazy because they often go on for four lines and repeat the same words and don’t include commas or semi-colons when they could just have easily been broken up into two shorter sentences instead of one long one that seems to go on forever.

The reason I’m somewhat merciless on this subject is because I truly care about the future of these students as PR professionals.  Bad spelling and punctuation in a press release mean a quick trip to the garbage pail and probably the unemployment line.  But I’m seeing it in their work too frequently, so I worry and correct and make a pest of myself.

A poor writer can become a good writer and a good writer can become a great writer.  But it doesn’t happen by itself.  It takes reading and writing and proofing and more reading.  It takes checking the AP Style Guide and Strunk’s “The Elements of Style” as you write.  It takes a desire to be better, because when you’re competing for that PR job, you’re writing samples have to stand above the dozens of samples you’ll be up against (Oh, and find the usage mistake in this last sentence!).

OK, today’s lecture is over.  For some writing tips, click on the picture above which was taken at my conference for nonprofit PR last week, and then live by those rules.  To work among professional communicators,  good writing is going to be the difference between success and failure.  Your thoughts?

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