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Grammar still counts: Why it matters and online resources to help

As we know, it's not only what you say, but also how you say it that matters. And as business communication advisors to our clients, we know that why it matters cannot be stressed enough.

Maybe it's that in today's fast-paced, deadline-driven and resource-tight work environment we think that nobody will notice a typo or grammar mistake here or there. Let's just get the job done and move on to the next! It's a new world of information overload after all, and who will really read the full text, word by word anyway?

Good grammar buildS trust; poor grammar erodes it

Over the past few years I've run across a definite increase in the number of sloppy communication mistakes, even from reputable newspapers and sites online. Where are the editors, you wonder? And does it leave the same shrill sound in your professional communicator ears as it does mine?

It's like running across that website or ad intended for the U.S. market that was clearly written by someone who didn't master the English language. It immediately appears of lesser quality, almost silly. Legitimacy is lost quickly and delivery of any intended message most likely pointless, not to mention that it tarnishes your brand!

Business communication mistakes do leave a lasting impression. Even with seemingly innocent and minor issues, it can lead an audience to question the level of authority, professionalism and ultimately trust they place in the person trying to convey a message. And once trust is broken and legitimacy is questioned, it becomes very hard to convince anyone to fully listen to what's communicated going forward.

While the misspoken word can oftentimes be more easily forgiven and forgotten, the written mistake endures, especially in our online world. So even with informal messages in email or social media, it's important to keep that keen eye on proper spelling and grammar since mistakes still have the potential to devalue your message and leave the impression you're quite OK with just winging it.

Here are a few common pet peeves of mine, where, after perpetual misuse, the correct usage can actually appear a little odd in cases. And although language is always in transition and exceptions exist, reinforcing the correct use of a word and knowing how to explain the difference to colleagues or clients — without sounding too arrogant — is vital for business communicators.

Further vs. Farther

The misuse of "further" and "farther:" The first is figurative and the latter refers to physical distance. Yet often we hear people say things such as, "I'll meet you further up the road."

Less vs. Fewer

"Less" is often interchanged with "fewer." The first is for quantities or qualities that can't be counted, the latter for quantities or units that can be counted. It's incorrect to say, "I have less days for vacation this year." A few exceptions do exist, but what I try to remember is that "less" is generally used with singular nouns, and "fewer" with plural nouns.

Then vs. Than

When to use "then" and "than" is frequently confused. Simply put, the first relates to issues of time ("He went to the bank and then the office."), the second is used with comparisons ("She has more patience than anyone I know.")

resources can help with grammar 

When in doubt, my trusted blue GrammarBook is where I go when I need help with grammar or punctuation questions. The easy search function helps pinpoint what I'm looking for and I like the many examples they offer in sentences to further clarify a rule. Grammar Girl is usually good for a quick, down-and-dirty explanation, whereas Grammarist is more analytical and provides greater background detail on a topic.

The expectation of professional communicators to use language correctly is especially relentless. Making grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes in our field can be downright embarrassing. And even though advising clients about their incorrect use of a word or spelling may be a delicate message to convey, you could be helping to save the reputation you've been trying to help them build all along.

It's safer to assume there will always be someone in your audience who will care about how your message is being communicated — about how precise your spelling, punctuation, and grammar are. We're specialists in communication after all, and if it's not our client's reputation on the line, it's our own professional reputation that is!

Alanna Fenner is a marketing communications professional with more than ten years of corporate communication experience, and holds a master's degree in international business.  She manages GreenView Communication, serving communication agencies and corporate clients in the New York / New Jersey area, and is on the board of the New Jersey chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. Find Alanna on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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