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The Grammar Police

June 1, 2000
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I’ve been following an ongoing discussion on the surveying bulletin board, www.RPLS.com, about the use of correct spelling and grammar by surveyors. Some people feel that surveyors have atrocious writing skills and should work harder to correct them; and others say spelling and grammar shouldn’t matter all that much as long as you’re supplying clients with good quality surveys. So far, I’ve read the various comments with interest and said nothing. I shall remain silent no longer.

Yes, good communication skills matter!

Granted, spelling and grammar may not be all that important on a computer bulletin board that’s meant for surveyors to discuss ideas amongst each other. Nor does it matter with grocery lists, daily journals or personal E-mail. Who cares about grammar among close friends? I don’t even use capital letters when I write to mine. But these are the only exceptions I can come up with. Yours may be the most brilliant mind since Einstein, but if you use improper English as a professional, you’ll seem ignorant.

Good communication skills are in no way synonymous with college educations. Most science and math-based curriculums are woefully short on writing and composition requirements. So, all you four-year degree people who think you’re off the hook; think again. I’ve seen letters from college-educated people so poorly written they were painful to read.

People will judge the way you think based on how you write. If you’re sloppy, people will assume your thinking is sloppy, too. Why take that risk? Learning proper grammar isn’t rocket science. All you need is a good grammar book for reference. Once you memorize grammar and punctuation rules, they will be yours to use for a lifetime of good writing. There is no excuse for misspelling when most documents are typed on computers equipped with spell check. No spell check? No computer? Try a dictionary.

Make sure every piece of correspondence that goes out of your office is proofread. The easiest way is to read what you have written out loud. You’ll know when it comes out of your mouth if you’ve successfully conveyed the ideas you had in mind. Is it clear? Is it understandable? Is it easy to read? Check for spelling and commonly confused words (i.e.,here/hear,it’s/its,there/their, your/you’re). Make sure it’s legible and attractively presented.

Your written words are a reflection of you - a sort of mirror by which others judge you. Make sure people see what you want them to see.

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