The importance of writing real good

It’s the what-you-wear of the digital age, and by all means writing about it is no easy feat — especially because every word I use and every punctuation I place will be subject to careful examination in order to determine if this article is in fact an accurate sermon on the importance of grammar, or rather a hypocritical tale from a narcissist who thinks he knows best.

Here’s hoping for the former.

We all like to think we don’t do it, but have you ever walked past someone dressed poorly and judged them? We’ve come a long way since what you wore actually said something about your ambitions, your wealth, and your social status. Today, walking in the streets of San Francisco, you wouldn’t be able to estimate a person’s wealth from their clothes. Most startup millionaires couldn’t care less about stroking the status quo, so most wear t-shits and shorts to the office (lucky bastards).

Last year, when Mark Zuckerberg wore a pair of jeans and a hoodie (his signature attire) to meet potential investors before Facebook’s IPO, some analysts criticised him, calling it, “a mark of immaturity.”

I would argue otherwise, for I doubt what we wear says much about who we are, particularly today; rather the importance lies in how we wear it. For example, I’m not one to wear a suit to work, or even tucking my shirt in, but it’s better than wearing a stained suit, or sporting BO.

The same can be translated to how we write online. I don’t expect perfect grammar for the same reason I don’t expect my colleagues to wear suits (and also because my grammar isn’t bulletproof either), but I do expect some level of care and attention when writing. In the age of spell-checks, spelling mistakes should be extinct; in the age of Google, not knowing the difference between whether and weather should be a disgrace (the same goes to your, you’re; where, were, we’re; their, there, they’re; it’s its, its’; to, too; etc.)

Recently Kyle Weins, co-founder of iFixit and Dozuki, wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review entitled, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar.” The piece highlighted some of the similarities grammar and work ethic have. His companies focus on writing repair manuals and helping software companies write documentation, so the need for impeccable grammar is evidently rooted his business strategy. However, Weins says he gives each applicant a mandatory grammar test, regardless of whether they’re a writer, a salesperson, or a programmer, and while he pardons Dyslexics and English learners, the application process ends there for everyone else who fails.

Weins admits his recruitment method might seem a little unfair, but he stands by it, saying that the way we write says a lot about our overall skills. He writes,

“If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with. Grammar signifies more than just a person’s ability to remember high school English. I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.”

Then again, there may be some exceptions to his rule. I’m sure many who failed his test were far better suited than some who passed and subsequently got hired, but it goes beyond that. The digital revolution brought forward a new way of communicating. It yielded friendships and couples without ever meeting; our words sometimes being the only thing that represent us. This is especially true today, where our digital presence is just as important as our physical one. From the hashtags we use, to the comments we note, our words and the small avatar next to our names, are the only things that illustrate who we are.

So next time you’re typing, ask yourself, would you go meet someone in a stained shirt?

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