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That’s “ineffectual communications”… if you use your spell-checker and maybe, just maybe, engage your brain.

Earlier this week I rejected a document at work. I rejected it because the grammar and syntax, the spelling, the punctuation and the general composition were so poor that I had to struggle to guess what the writer meant. So what am I, someone’s fourth-grade teacher? No, I’m just Always Grumpy.

That’s right, it’s me; I’m back after a long summer hiatus: Frequently Happy, Sometimes Sneezy, Often Dopey, Rarely Bashful and always, Always Grumpy.

As a cube-dweller in a sometimes sensitive position in a large corporate environment, I review documents all the time. I reject them when I feel I need to. When I do, it slows people down, delays their projects and makes them work harder. As a member of the IT staff (which a certain other blogger would call the Productivity Prevention Department) you might think I do it all the time, just for the joy of it. But no… if I reject a document it’s usually because there are factual inaccuracies we have to correct. I don’t like to slow things down unnecessarily over relatively trivial matters like speling; and poor punctuation. Or bad grammar. But sometimes I get driven over the edge, usually by a straw that’s (if you’ll forgive a mixed metaphor) breaking some poor camel’s back. In this case, my rejection has added at least a few hours’ work (all people considered) and probably a day or two of elapsed time to a project that doesn’t need the delay. I’d feel bad about it, except that the submitter is one of many repeat offenders who seem not to care whether or not their documents are concise, easy to read, easy to understand and clear in their intent. So I guess I’m making a point.

Rather than outing the poor soul who sparked my ire most recently on this issue, let me choose another example of careless writing gone awry. I recently received an unsolicited e-mail (eek! Spam!) from a vendor. Happens all the time. This one was about application recovery times, which is a topic I’m interested in. But I never read the article. Why? Because the subject line had such an obvious error that I couldn’t take the rest of the content seriously. So what was this egregious error?

The subject line was, “Pedal to the Medal: Accelerating Application Recovery”.

Ouch! As I wrote to the offending vendor, “The phrase you’re looking for is ‘pedal to the metal’. Not ‘pedal to the medal’ or ‘petal to the metal’ or ‘pebble to the middle’ or anything else that happens to sound similar.”

I went on. I wrote, “If you don’t know the idiom, don’t use it. When I see poor communications in my in-basket in the form of incorrect grammar or spelling or idiom, I assume it reflects the capabilities and attention to detail of the author and of any company, organization or project the author represents. If I can afford to, and especially if it’s spam anyway, I usually just delete it. But today I’m feeling kind so I’m replying to inform you of your error. If you’re throwing spam, you’ll find it will stick better and to more walls if your aim is true.” To quote another blogger (same one as above) on this topic: “… in technical areas there is a tolerance for crap like that and it’s created a laziness on the part of content marketers that is basically shooting their brand in the foot.”

I never received a response. Now I’m blogging about it. I won’t out the author: I’m not shy, but that would give the vendor company publicity that I don’t think they deserve in this case.

If your attempts at communication are not understood, your meaning is whatever your reader guesses – communication is in the mind of the consumer! If you write crap and send it to me, I won’t like it. If I can, I’ll give it the response it deserves by deriding it or ignoring it entirely or sending it back to be fixed. Regardless, wouldn’t you and your mom both be more proud if you did all of your work well?

Jonathan Gladstone is alwaysgrumpy at jbglad59@sympatico.ca or follow me on Twitter @jbglad59.

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One Comment

    • Frances Weingarten
    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 21:45
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    • Reply

    Yeah, but those poor sods who write so poorly and inaccurately probably don’t even know that they’re doing it! The way they were taught in their various schools has, in all likelihood, left them less than capable of writing an accurate sentence or expressing a clear thought. I do agree that you’re right in sending the work back for a rewrite but they likely won’t be able to do any better!

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