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When Poor Grammar Goes to Work

Something for you English teachers (and English teachers at heart) out there: Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger has an interesting piece on the downfall of decent grammar in the work place—a consequence, observers say, of the rampant growth of informal communication conventions. The problem, Shellenbarger suggests, can have an impact on business performance:

Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

It's gotten to the point where many companies are taking determined action. Shellenbarger points to a recent survey showing that 45 percent of employers say they are increasing employee training in grammar and related skills. Other strategies mentioned in the piece include providing templates for employees' letters to customers and, at one consulting firm, requiring all job applicants—including box-packer candidates—to pass spelling and grammar tests.

But Shellenberger also notes that (not surprisingly) there appears to be a generational divide on the issue. The vice president of a software maker whose employees are largely in their 30s says that, for their purposes, authenticity and clarity are more important than "the king's grammar" in company communications. "Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook—those are the ones who are going to succeed," he says.

Something tells me he's probably be right about this—but don't sincerity and clarity in language presuppose a solid understanding, on some level, of good usage?

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