Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grammar Matters

A recent restaurant coupon we received:

I'll have the Gobi, please


A common response when people find out that I teach writing is, "I guess I need to watch my grammar." Usually, I try to reassure the person by telling them that conversation is much more relaxed and therefore, it's not always necessary to follow a strict set of rules. I want to put them at ease, not remind them of a harrowing school experience.

While I am a stickler for my own grammar, I try really hard not to impose this standard on other people. I make a conscious effort to avoid marking every single error in my students' writing and almost never use a red pen.

That being said, my tolerance for poor grammar goes out the window when it comes to professional, published writing. I'm not talking about the occasional Facebook post with the wrong form of they're/their/there or a text message featuring the number 2 instead of the word to (although I can't promise to not secretly judge you in either of those situations). What irks me is when I see a sign, an advertisement, or some other form of professional communication riddled with careless errors.

I'm not trying to be harsh when I say careless. If you are not a grammar expert, then by all means, have someone else edit your writing. I have yet to master the art of changing my car's oil or cutting my own hair, and therefore have professionals do it for me. If I take the time to revise and edit blog posts countless times (which might explain why they are more infrequent than I would like), then the least you could do is make sure you spell the word "dessert" correctly.

While I have been known to correct parking lot signs ("violators," not "violaters"), cross out errant apostrophes (the orange's what?), and take pictures of correctly worded grocery store express lanes (10 items or FEWER), this most recent rant stems from an extremely frustrating e-mail conversation regarding a product purchased on-line.

To make a long story short, I purchased an item and had it delivered as a gift. For a variety of reasons, it was over a month before it was confirmed that said item didn't work. Doubtful that I would be able to return the item, I nonetheless sent off a brief message to the seller making that very request.

I hoped for a full refund, but all I expected was a brief sentence or two stating that the return period had lapsed. Instead, I received a rambling message lacking punctuation (except for an overuse of !!!) informing me that since I had kept the item for over a month, I couldn't possibly think that I might get a refund. Whether intended or not, the poorly written message came across as rude, condescending, and extremely unprofessional.

Frankly, I was insulted, both as a customer and a reader. I thought for about two seconds about taking the high road and not replying, but Jon quickly talked me out of that. We spent over an hour crafting a brief reply that called out the seller for such poor customer service. Unfortunately the seller did not take an equivalent amount of time to think out what s/he wanted to write and hastily dashed off a note--from a cell phone, no less--about the negative feedback I'd left and how it "got to go" if I wanted even a partial refund.

I'll spare you the details of the ensuing messages we exchanged, but needless to say, I was disappointed and upset with such deplorable writing. It still makes my blood boil to think about it.

One thing I preach to all my classes is the importance of purpose and audience. If your purpose is to conduct business and your audience is a customer, then for the love of all that is good and holy, please write like a professional. Please. At least now my students will have a perfect example of what NOT to do.

1 comment:

Jill Ann Hlls said...

I LOVE you, Kristen! My sentiments exactly!!!

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