In a previous post entitled “Does the Writing in Your Website, Reports, and Emails Do You Justice?” I alluded to the reputational implications of poor writing skills on the part of professionals who are routinely required to prepare reports, emails, and other documents. No doubt my information profession colleagues – engaged as they are in many communication tasks – would cringe along with me upon hearing the voiceover in a frequently aired television commercial for a cleaning product. The commercial declares “Kids love bathtime – but so does bacteria. It hides …”
Run that by me one more time? “Bacteria” used with “does” and “hides” … in a huge multinational company’s commercial?
For those who have been around the “criterion/criteria” and similar singular/plural blocks, the commercial is striking because it raises questions:
- LACK OF KNOWLEDGE? Did the writers simply not know that “bacteria” is plural? Did no one in the chain of approvals catch the error?
- DELIBERATE ERROR? Did the writers and the marketing management team believe that incorrect usage would make the commercial more appealing to viewers? Consider that “so do bacteria. They hide …” (1) would not challenge anyone’s comprehension and (2) would match better with the plural “kids”.
As society evolves along a path of increasing informality in communication, it is understandable that attitudes toward language relax. Saying “I’m doing good!” may in fact be an intentional reflection of the trend (as opposed to indicating lack of ability to distinguish between “good” and “well”). A grammatical error on a statistical chart may be inconsequential if the numbers are accurate and there is no possibility of misunderstanding or ambiguity. Brevity in texting and emails produces shortcuts we all understand. When alerted to an error, some say “oh, I know it’s not grammatically correct, but I don’t want to be perceived as a stickler!” or “grammatical errors in the text is not a worry at all – at worst, not many readers would notice; at best, it provides some verve to the text!”. All in all, we are collectively growing tolerant and unconcerned.
That said, how do information professionals deal with the decreasing sensitivity to language errors? In the spirit of taking the high road, these simple principles apply:
Grammatical accuracy can never be a liability. Correct usage supports clarity. Clear and correct writing will serve any professional’s purposes as it keeps the focus on the message being conveyed and avoids confusing readers or listeners. Deliberate or inadvertent sloppiness is unlikely to produce positive results.
Consider that decision makers may react to language errors in various ways: Customers likely purchase the product featured in the commercial due to the company’s overall product related reputation. Were I to see a flawed advertisement for a company or product unfamiliar to me, a resume with errors, or a poorly written proposal … I might hesitate (and that would be a shame if in fact the company, product, person, or proposal had merit).
As noted in the previous quality-of-writing related post, readers interested in communicating without errors may wish to visit my Gallery inventory of common language mistakes and solutions for them. I welcome additions!