Mistakes in your business writing: are they a hanging offence?

If the “grammar police” get on your case because you’ve made a mistake in your business writing like putting an apostrophe in the wrong place or using the wrong derivative of a verb, should you cower in fear and correct every last little goof?

Or are there times when you can give such critics the finger and remind them that there are more important things in life than too many exclamation marks?

Mistakes in your business writing: are they a hanging offence?I probably shouldn’t say this as I am pro writer/author/editor, but just between ourselves … I think in our modern times we can get too pedantic about absolutely correct grammar, punctuation, spelling and so-on.

Like everyone else I shouted with laughter when reading Lynne Truss’s wonderful book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” if for no other reason than the fact that she found so much humour in the whole issue and had her tongue firmly in her cheek while pulling up the grammar-perps for their evil crimes.

But there’s one very important distinction that drops out of all this, and that can been seen even in Truss’s book title:  the problem of ambiguity, and the consequent risk of people not understanding what you’re talking about – or worse, misinterpreting your words completely.

And much as the strict grammarians may sneer at me like I had just crawled up out of drain, I really think they should get over themselves and relax when people make mistakes that don’t affect the meaning of the words in question. Where we should do some more work, however, is in one or more of these circumstances:

  • When, as I mentioned, the mistake alters or obscures the meaning
  • When because of the mistake the whole sentence or paragraph doesn’t make sense
  • When it’s a very obvious mistake that everyone knows about, e.g. “its” vs “it’s,” “they’re” vs “their,” etc.
  • When the mistake is just about understandable but makes you look silly, e.g. “loose” vs “lose”
  • When the mistake is a typo that could get you into trouble, e.g. “shit” instead of “shot”

But what about spell checkers, grammar checkers and so-on?

What about them? I hate them, because although they pick up some mistakes they don’t cover everything and in some cases are wrong – or at least are based on one lot of English grammar rules (USA) when I’m trying to write in English English.

The bottom line is that these checkers should be regarded as irritating little reminders, but don’t trust them to correct everything. Good old-fashioned common sense of the human variety is far more reliable.

What do you think about being strict about correctness in your writing? Do you agree that we should be more relaxed about it, or do you think we should uphold the highest standards no matter what? I look forward to reading your views!

Stop those mistakes once and for all!

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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