The Costs of Sloppy Grammar Are Incalculable

Myra Oppel
Myra Oppel

Perhaps you’ve seen the mom text fail where she sends, “Aunt Mary died. LOL.” She thought LOL meant “lots of love.” I routinely have to Google abbreviations from my kids’ texts to figure out what they’re trying to say. Who knew the significance of being someone’s “BAE” (baby)?

While it’s one thing to play a guessing game with teens, it’s another to do so with C-level executives or external PR connections. You do not want them to have to look up acronyms or guess at what you mean in your correspondence or news releases.

CREDIBILITY ISSUE

The temptation is to bang out text the same way you bang out texts. Resist it. What you write and how you write it matters.

Having poor grammar, misspelled words, sloppy punctuation and excessive jargon and acronyms can damage your credibility—and the credibility of your communications.

You have only that one chance at a first impression. If you are lax with your writing, are you also lax with your facts? Sloppiness also shows disrespect. Would you knowingly send a memo to your CEO or a top reporter with typos? If you accept that in a memo to someone else, are you saying that they don’t matter as much?

I admit I’m more neurotic than most about grammar.

As a former reporter, copy editor and editor, I notice violations. I also judge when someone makes an error. I judge harshly when he makes multiple errors or routinely disregards grammar rules.

CRUCIAL TEST

I also immediately toss any résumé for a PR position if I spot a single typo, punctuation or grammatical error. If you can’t get a résumé right, you won’t pass muster for writing news releases.

For some public relations jobs, employers may give writing tests as a screen for applicants. Those with poor writing skills wouldn’t make it to the next step.

As managers, it is important to be a role model for employees but also to ensure that they are meticulous about writing basics. All PR executives should follow these simple rules:

Send a document that can be cut and pasted. You want your copy used so make it effortless.

Answer basic questions. Who, what when, where, why and how should be elements in any story.

Write in an inverted pyramid. The most important information should always come first.

Use Associated Press style. This goes back to the cut-and- paste idea, especially when writing for the media.

Include usable quotes. Know the voice of the person being quoted and use wording that sounds like a real person said it.

Avoid jargon. Every industry has an internal language, but it isn’t fair to make others translate.

Limit acronyms and always spell them out.

Compare what you send to what people use. Do people rewrite your copy before they share it?

And the most important, rule? Proofread. Always. If it’s a critical document, ask someone else to read it as well.

A tip? It’s often easier to spot misspelled words in printed versions because it is tempting to rely on SpellCheck’s underlining when editing electronically.

Better grammar leads to clearer communication. Clearer communication makes it easier to deliver our messages.

As PR practitioners, our job is to deliver messages. We wouldn’t want that jeopardized by an “FTC.” That’s a Failure to Communicate for those of us older than 21.

Special shout-out to Sherry O’Neal, lecturer, NC State University, for suggesting this article.

CONTACT:

Myra Oppel is regional communications VP for Pepco Holdings Inc. She can be reached at myra.oppel@pepcoholdings.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 29, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.