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Have you sworn an oath to the Grammar Police?

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Question: "I take some criticism in the office because I'm a stickler for good grammar. So much of what we write to each other comes off as unprofessional that I think there does need to be one person who points out these little communication breakdowns. It's my way of trying to stop bad grammar from creeping over into the materials our clients and customers see. Am I right to keep standing up for the rules, or am I playing office politics incorrectly?" - Glenn, Film Librarian

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Rene' October 8, 2015 at 5:40 pm

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I can only presume that the people who have written “let it go” and “it’s not important” are the same people making the errors. With that said, I feel there needs to be a freedom of expression in our writing when it is informal correspondence. However, all external communication and marketing pieces must have the highest level of quality if people are going to take your products and services seriously. It does get noticed, and it does make a difference.

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Donna October 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Thank you for caring if grammar and spelling are correct. I can ignore poor writing/emails if the material is internal only. The problem that can’t be ignored is sometimes those same errors reach our customers. Whoever is proofing material for the public can not be afraid they’ll hurt someone’s feelings. Much better to catch an error _before_ going to print that for the entire company to suffer due to an ignored error. I often tell coworkers I’d much rather have someone point out my error and I try to be nice about pointing out errors when I’m asked to proof the work of others.

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Lisa October 8, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Let it go. Life is too short to worry about grammar, spelling, etc. If you correct a coworker, it will foster bad feelings. I think it is more important to maintain a happy workplace. Everyone is human – not one of us is perfect.

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LBCousins September 28, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Depending on your staffing support structure at your business, you may be able to mention your concerns (in general) regarding several recurring grammar mistakes noted in client materials in passing, or in a “personal” email communication to either the Office Mgr. or perhaps the Marketing Mgr. discretely, to let them know you aware of some lack of writing ‘quality control’ by some colleagues and would like to get their blessing/support to make or request obvious corrections if caught prior to printing or mailing out. That way you will hopefully get positive credit for your ‘attention to detail’ efforts on behalf of the Firm’s image, and they will at least know that you care enough to take the time to get it right. Not every employee takes the time to invest in that perfecting process on behalf of the Firm.

Another option that might help is to reply to the sender of the ‘guilty’ document and inquire if the “working document” you are copied on (or see in the course of your work duties), is a draft version that hasn’t yet been finalized (to help prepare them for the proposed edits you’d like to share). Either answer they give, you could offer to make a few minor grammatical “recommendations” to the writer for their consideration – if they have the time to let you “propose” a few ‘instinctive’ grammar “tweaks” prior to finalizing + transmitting so they know you have their back. If they say no thanks – it is their responsibility for the finished product. If they say sure, thanks – you have a chance to make it better. Sometimes a 2nd set of eyes + expertise is appreciated. Not every colleague is a good writer, and knows that fact, so they might actually welcome having someone “recommend” or propose a few possible tweaks to their writing – especially if it is a “Firm” document, and not a personal report.

It’s hard to ignore mistakes on outgoing documents that you are not responsible for, but it is worth trying to improve the final product. Good luck!

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Betsy C. September 28, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I thought I had excellent grammar skills until I met my husband, my own personal “Grammar Cop.” While I appreciate his corrections, it can be frustrating at times so I can imagine what it’s like for non-family recipients of similar criticism.

If you see a mistake going outside the company, by all means, point it out. Unless it is a serious, internal faux-pas, I would let it slide. If you’re adamant about helping, offer your proofreading services. Otherwise, let it be for internal mistakes.

At home, we made a game out of proper grammar for my children. Any time they could catch me or my husband in an error, they got recognition for a good job, usually in the form of a treat like extra computer time, etc. We’ve managed to improve their grammar substantially and have weaned them from speaking “textese” on their cell phones, emails, etc. The 16 year old recently commented how irritating it is to text to other kids when they use such poor grammar or text-speak (success!).

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Tesstarosa September 28, 2015 at 12:21 am

I would say you are not playing “office politics” correctly based on this quote:
“It’s my way of trying to stop bad grammar from creeping over into the materials our clients and customers see.”

You have taken on the role of grammar police. No one has asked you to do this. And since you have said you are getting criticism you are not helping yourself.

Your co-workers don’t want you to constantly correct them. You don’t say how you correct them — is it a private message or a reply all.

It’s possible your constant picking at grammar will eventually mean that people will start ignoring any actual valuable feedback you have because they’ll see a message from you and say, “What did I spell wrong now?” and just ignore your message.

And, I can pretty much guarantee you that your co-workers know the difference between your and you’re and there, their and they’re — they’re just typing thoughts quickly and getting them out there or others to consider.

If being the grammar police is a role you really want, offer it out to your co-workers as something you are willing to do before messages go out. Then, let them ask you for your assistance.

And, make absolutely certain that all of your communications are impeccable.

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Shirley September 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

I’ve been called a “spelling nazi” for correcting someone on their spelling. If I was expected to learn the difference between YOUR and YOU’RE by second grade, I would expect everyone else to know the difference too. It’s frustrating, because I feel as I’m the only one, holding up a passing standard. My response to the person who called me a nasty name, was to say, “I’m only trying to help you not look like a buffoon. Good luck to you”.
If the person gets enough comments from other people, maybe they will finally realize that spelling is important. If they didn’t learn it in elementary school, chances are, they probably aren’t going to learn it now. Let it go.

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Madeline Case September 24, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Not necessary to submit to anyone, since my mother-in-law was a former public school teacher, she is the Grammar Police. So everyone in my family is on alert about what and how we communicate it.

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Claudia September 24, 2015 at 5:29 pm

I encourage good grammar and to watch spelling, however I’m cautious about corrections. We have people in our office that have English as their second language. They have chosen to bring me copies of their written emails, memos, etc., for me to review prior to sending. We also have a newsletter that often has “Grammar & Punctuation Tips”. This tends to help people be more aware of their writing. Be careful of the “red pen” and too many corrections.

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EA September 24, 2015 at 5:07 pm

I think you may already know the answer to the question since you are asking if you aren’t playing office politics correctly. No one likes to be corrected all of the time on every communication especially if it is an internal email communication between a small audience of little consequence.

My suggestion is to flex your style depending on the situation and the audience. If it doesn’t matter, let it go. If the person is a peer and makes mistakes continuously on matters of importance and will take it well, then approach them gently and offer your feedback as help for the future versus being critical.

We have one person in our office that consistently pointed out every typo ever made to everyone. We all make typos and it used to frustrate me quite a bit to get a response from her pointing out the error. But I decided to turn it around and go to her if I need another set of eyes on something before it goes out!

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Bianca Constance September 24, 2015 at 4:45 pm

I applaud you for taking the time and making the effort to take responsibility for everyone else’s lapses in grammar. In my office, we pay careful attention to grammar in both our internal AND external communications. You either follow the rules of grammar or you don’t. Our co-workers should not be subject to poor grammar just because they are not external customers. Keep politely correcting everyone’s grammar.

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Paula September 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I agree with Mark in his comment above. I’ve been told that in many cases, grammer rules are more relaxed, such as inter-office emails but in the case of any written document going out with your company or personal name on it to anyone outside the company it should be grammatically correct in every sense of the word! Image is everything.

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Anne September 24, 2015 at 4:17 pm

I agree that we should be vigilant about grammar, punctuation, etc. As we are now living in the age of email and texting, many of the old rules have gone out the window. Being of the old school, I still cannot send an email or a text without starting the sentence with a capital letter and ending it with a period. So far I have not seen a problem in the workplace, i.e. people seem to still abide by correct spelling, sentence structure, etc. It will be interesting as time goes on to see if even the workplace becomes lax about grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, etc.

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Laura September 24, 2015 at 4:10 pm

I too, agree with Mark and Karen. Outside communications as well as official internal documents should contain correct spelling and proper grammar. It is acceptable to correct any imperfections within those parameters. I do think that correcting instant internal messages, people’s speech, or one-on-one emails is unnecessary and you could potentially be doing more harm than good in terms of office politics and internal networking.

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Jennifer October 9, 2015 at 6:35 am

I agree Laura. One would think though, in an office environment, proper grammar is a given. Doesn’t spell check catch most mistakes though?
We see all too often on Facebook, grammar police correcting strangers which is not a professional environment. That is crossing the line.
I presume those are the same grammar sticklers at work?
That being said, I do find it sad that technology is taking us backwards in many areas, grammar, being one major example. Are we that lazy we cannot spell out a word when texting?

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Karen September 24, 2015 at 1:09 pm

I agree with Mark. It’s important for outgoing documents but not so much for internal communications. I would never dream of correcting someone’s email or memo, unless that person explicitly asked me to review and correct it. My children are the only people that “enjoy” the benefit of my grammar policing.

If you do this too often, you could very well be left out of the loop in important communications. People sometimes just want to get their points across quickly and not have to worry if they used the correct tense of a verb, etc.

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Pat September 24, 2015 at 4:15 pm

I am one of those folks who corrects other people’s grammar. I know it can sound picky but I have watched as texting has taken over with most of us. The more texting you do the less you remember and when you have to a cogent sentence in the office or out of the office you can easily make errors. The old adage “Use it or lose it” is just as true today as it was when it was first used. It is alright to slide a little in private communications, But test yourself from time to time and make sure your skills are still up to par.

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Mark September 24, 2015 at 11:19 am

Personally, I think that as long as communication going out to your customers/clients is professionally done, it’s not as important regarding communications within the office. For example, we have an employee who over-uses exclamation points and question marks (often adding three or four of them to the end of a sentence) on a regular basis. However, she only does this within the office. Mail, e-mail, and other communications from her that reach outside the office are done professionally. I would keep vigilant regarding communications going outside the organization, but relax regarding communications within the organization.

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