To Comma Or Not To Comma: that is the question.

Communication with customers has never been easier. But is it better?

In The Good Old Days

Before the 1970s senior managers and directors had secretaries to handle their written communication. These employees had undergone training at secretarial school, had done their apprenticeships in the dreaded typing pool and had earned positions of trust, through experience and skill. Letters would be dictated, typed to a high standard, presented for approval and signing, and then posted. Quality was high but it came with a cost and could be very slow.

Hoorah For Technology!

The 70’s brought in word processing and things became slightly quicker and cheaper. The 80’s saw the development of spell checking software which began to undermine the professional secretarial role, and then we arrived in the 90’s! This is where things really started to change because suddenly managers had PCs on their desks and they could write their own letters. Brilliant! The secretaries left, along with their learning, and directors started to manage their own post. It wasn’t just letters either. In the past if you wanted a sign for your business you would have hired a signwriter who, like the secretaries of old, had been trained and apprenticed. Now the cheaper, faster option is to plug your wording into an on-line form and a couple of days later your lovely, shiny sign arrives.

Is This Good News?

It certainly has been sold as such but a quick browse through the World Wide Web shows you that businesses can be exceptionally careless with their reputation and unfortunately grammatical nasties abound. The invention of the internet, laptops, tablets and smart phones hasn’t helped this decline either. Communicating with the world is the remit of employees who haven’t had a grammar lesson since they were about 12 and certainly have never had training in good communications. In addition communication with the customer has been transformed with the introduction of social media. Now directors are tweeting and updating to all and sundry whilst stuck in traffic queues, sitting on the loo or enduring boring meetings. This constant feed is not necessarily better but there certainly is a lot of it. Nevermind the quality, feel the width. Meanwhile your laser printed sign has been hung, complete with the spelling mistake or grammatical error that you didn’t notice when you filled in the form and you don’t notice now. Not until someone (your viewing public) points it out to you. Too late.

Should We Care?

It is astonishing how the drive for speed and cost cutting has trampled over quality. In addition, the pursuit of new customers through social media has blinded some companies to the need for good old-fashioned quality control. I received an e-mail a few months ago inviting me to spend my money on a training course that was going to pay me great dividends. However the e-mail was full of careless grammar and spelling mistakes that made reading really hard work. One of the typos was so bad that it changed the meaning of a sentence to something entirely different. Why should I pay money to an organisation that cares so little about itself and its products? Should we care about good grammar? Yes, if it is going to affect our business and what our customers think about us. And there lies the heart of the problem.

Rules Are There For A Reason

The rules of English are there to help us be clear in our communication. They are not there just to keep English teachers in work and give grammar bullies something to get steamed up about. I am not advocating a linguistic prescription that tries to standardise everything, leading us into an Orwellian world. I am advocating the careful use of the rules if they help understanding and make life easier for the reader. Ignoring good grammar is like not caring what you wear. Possibly it shows you to be free-spirited and unshackled by convention. On the other hand, it might leave you feeling chilly and looking pretty ridiculous. Your customers are not going to take you seriously if you turn up in just your pants.

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