English is still English, even when typed on your mobile

Communication is the art of being understood (according to Peter Ustinov). It’s about getting your point across clearly and succinctly. And as regular readers of this blog will know … oh boy, I need to remember this simple truth.

If you want someone to read and understand what you have written, then it is your responsibility to make sure that it is clear. It should be apparent that you actually spent some time considering what you wanted to communicate, before writing it and then checking it.

It is not the reader’s responsibility to read it, re-read it, read it out loud, try and guess what was meant, put pauses in between random words to see if it makes any more sense, or ask the guy in the office who enjoys cryptic crosswords if he can understand it.

To put it bluntly: to communicate poorly is to insult your reader(s).

Nevertheless, I see too many e-mails or Facebook comments that are just this insulting. If I receive an e-mail I can’t understand, I delete it. Inane Facebook comments are ignored. Which is a shame, because very often I know the author well; I know that were I face-to-face with them I would want to hear what they had to say.

I’m trying hard to write this without sounding like a grumpy old man. I’m not just having a whine about young people and txt spk. Please understand that if you use poorly written English you are doing yourself a terrible disservice. People are ignoring what you have to say because you’re saying it badly. Confusing “your” and “you’re” makes you look stupid. Swapping “you” for “u” makes you seem lazy. Inability to use punctuation makes you appear disorganized and haphazard.

I know that I have a number of friends who are looking for work, and cannot understand why their CVs are rejected. Now, times are hard and there aren’t so many jobs about, but … if your CV is written to the same standard as your Facebook status, it’s no surprise that you don’t have a job.

Please heed this carefully, particularly if you are looking for an office job that includes a lot of written correspondence:

No-one will employ you to write e-mails on their behalf if your CV is littered with trivial grammar mistakes!

Herman cartoon, by Jim Unger

Herman cartoon, by Jim Unger

Your CV, your website, your e-mails and even your Facebook statuses all add up to a first impression. If a potential employer has a thousand CVs to work through to shortlist two or three, exactly how much time do you think they’ll spend reading yours if you think it is acceptable to end a sentence with “lol”?

“But I can write properly when I have to!” you exclaim. “My text messages are not the same as my work documents!”

I would argue that by embracing two different standards, you’re making your life more difficult. It’s like saying “I don’t bother using my indicators when there are no cars behind me”. You shouldn’t be making the distinction. Good habits should be automatic, whether that is how you write or how you drive.

There is a huge demand in this country for employees who know how to communicate through written English. Good written communication skills are vital. In the 21st century, the company website is the shop front – it needs to be written perfectly, or customers will lose confidence and shop elsewhere. If you show that you know how to communicate, your CV will stand out from the other thousand in that pile.

Here is a quick list of mistakes I see made on an hourly basis. Please cut out and keep.

Know the meanings of these words:

  • there – as in “over there” or “there are”
  • their – means “belongs to them”
  • they’re – short for “they are”
  • your – means “owned by you”
  • you’re – short for “you are”
  • know – knowledge. To be aware of.
  • no – opposite of “yes”.

Know when to use apostrophes

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I’ve ranted about this before. English can be a funny bugger, and not many people know what to do with apostrophes in all circumstances (myself included). But you should at least know two basics rules that will see you right for the majority of the time:

  • “If in doubt, leave it out.” If you forget an apostrophe, it isn’t the end of the world. But to force one where it isn’t supposed to be always looks bad.
  • Never ever use an apostrophe to make a plural. Ever. Ever.

Use commas, full-stops and capital letters

Punctuation is important – it lets the reader know when one sentence has ended and the next has begun. Otherwise it is just a chaotic stream of words without pauses for breath or emphasis. If you don’t use them, your reader will believe you are an airhead; stringing together random words with no real consideration of their meaning.

Don’t use “u” as a word when “you” will fit

You’re not writing a telegram, so you’re not being charged extra for those two characters. Use them.

 

Well done for reading this far! I hope I haven’t come across as a Grammar Nazi. I’m trying not to moan or rant; I just want you to do yourself a favour. If you have something to say, then you should say it right.

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  1. Rob says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. There are too many examples to list, but when I receive a text message that takes several minutes to decipher I tend to retaliate by replying as verbosely as I can, just to try and drive the point home. Sadly, I fear it just goes straight over their head. Makes me feel better, though.

  2. Oddbloke says:

    Well, I used to do that … but then I realised that it only made me feel superior for a short time, but made people think I was a tool for far longer. :)

    I’m not obsessive about perfect English – heaven alone knows I bend the rules on this blog far too often (often for a more personal tone, or for comic effect). So I’m not going to correct people on split infinitives or their insistence of using the word “literally” in an entirely incorrect manner, but I wanted to point out the absolute basic stuff that everyone should know.

    It has occurred to me that amongst my friends and former co-workers, those with the strongest grasp of English are those who know it as a second language! For example: I can think of at least two Spanish friends whose grasp of English is better than mine. That’s just shocking.

  3. James Blast says:

    UR 2 GAY! FFS LOLZ

    just trying to lighten the mood chaps’

    see wot eye did tehre

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