All businesses, whatever their size, should care about correct spelling and grammar because they create a professional, credible first impression. Think they’re unimportant in this day and age? Just look at the ridicule heaped on US President Donald Trump for his repeated mistakes – and not necessarily only from people who disagree with his policies. When President Trump branded Jeff Sessions, still his attorney-general at the time of writing, as “beleaguered” on Twitter, perhaps the most surprising thing was that “beleaguered” was spelt correctly!
As The Times’ Washington correspondent Rhys Blakely said, “Spelling is really not this administration’s strong point. An official poster of Mr Trump’s inauguration portrait included a caption with a glaring typo: ‘No dream is too big, no challenge is to (sic) great.’ Then, on his first full day in office, he tweeted about how he was ‘honered to serve’ the American people.” And things haven’t improved since. As Blakely points out, “It points to a broader disdain of detail.”
Interestingly, research suggests people like me who are angered by shoddy grammar and poorly written correspondence are apparently more likely than most to be withdrawn, grumpy loners than more relaxed individuals who don’t care about such allegedly petty matters as grammar and spelling. (Obviously, I’m the exception to the rule).
In the first study into the impact that the personality traits of listeners or readers have on their interpretation of language, conducted by the University of Michigan, 83 people were invited to read a false advert for a new housemate, which was littered with mistakes and rate how much they were irritated by them. The errors included typos, as well as common grammatical mistakes such as misspelling ‘your/you’re’ and ‘to/too’. The guinea pigs were asked to rate the perceived intelligence and friendliness of the applicants and rate them on characteristics including openness and how neurotic they were likely to be.
The experiment showed that people who were bothered by the errors were more likely to be rated as ‘disagreeable’ and ‘introverted’ in the personality tests. The results reinforced previous research showing that poor written English can have serious implications. For example, people who made errors on applications for a bank loan were more likely to be turned down than those who did not. Another reason to double-check your writing before pressing ‘send’ on that all-important email!
But getting back to President Trump, he is not only giving detractors an easy target but, more importantly, his errors distract from his message. And that’s my point. Whether you’re a world leader or simply leader of your firm, poor spelling and grammar detract from your organisation’s standing. If they are a persistent weakness in your firm’s communications, call in a professional.