How important is grammar, anyway?

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My students frequently ask me about the importance of grammar, but my friends do as well--my college-educated friends, so I think I need to set the record straight. So, how important is grammar, anyway? Well, in a word, VERY!

Grammar (spoken and written) is very important in some situations:

-Jobs interviews and resumes

-Professional meetings, telephone conversations, memos, etc.

-Emails generated as an employee or representative of any professional organization

-Website content

-Academic essays

-Published articles (in print and online)



And there are situations where grammar is not as important:


-Dialog from a character who should be perceived as less educated or from a different region or part of the world (Some blogs fall into this category.)

-Emails or letters to family and friends (See my caveat below.)

Caveat: Remember that everyone you know is part of your network, and that network will, most likely, contribute to future business opportunities, personal references, potential employment, and so on; therefore, it’s just a good habit to use proper grammar, if you have those skills.

Now, don't let your lack of grammatical skills (or just the fear) keep you from contributing. We all have something important to say (and write), but sure, we can all improve.

If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable about your grammar skills, there is something you can do about it, short of putting yourself to sleep each night reading a handbook. If you slip during a conversation and use the word “irregardless,” for example, don’t panic. Conversations flow, and listeners tend to move with them, BUT written mistakes stop readers in their tracks--and you have the opportunity to minimize written mistakes, so take note of my top five tricks for looking and sounding smarter:

  1. If there’s a rule you’ve never quite understood, reword to avoid it!
  2. Use a spellchecker at ALL times (Spellcheckers are not 100% effective, but they’re better than a stick in the eye.)
  3. Proofread your writing, and the best way to proofread is to read aloud. If it sounds wrong, it probably is.
  4. Know the most common mistakes (next entry in my blog, I promise).
  5. Avoid using regional language or colloquialisms (expressions not used in formal speech or writing), such as the colloquialism I used in item #1 above.

So, to all my future friends out there, and those of you who were just wondering: Yes, grammar IS important, but it's not important enough to stop you, so get going!

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