Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wiens on the Importance of Good Grammar

Over at the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens writes about the importance of good grammar. Excerpts:
If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building. ...

Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can't distinguish between "to" and "too," their applications go into the bin.

Of course, we write for a living. iFixit.com is the world's largest online repair manual, and Dozuki helps companies write their own technical documentation, like paperless work instructions and step-by-step user manuals. So, it makes sense that we've made a preemptive strike against groan-worthy grammar errors.

But grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can't tell the difference between their, there, and they're.
Read the whole thing. Now, I'm no grammar Nazi. I claim no great insight into the workings of the English language. When I worked at The Magazine, I once drove an editor into wrath by consistently confusing state abbreviations with postal abbreviations in my articles. In other words, I'm in no place to judge those who write in LOLspeak. But I do have a little grammar book that I pore over from time to time while plodding on the treadmill, and I've been known to listen to the Grammar Girl podcast while mowing the lawn. Those of us in the creative writing field have a higher bar to clear than Twitter addicts -- especially if we don't want a slush reader to pitch our efforts into the circular filing bin.

(Picture: CC 2011 by Synderion; Hat Tip: The Wall Street Journal)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

"and I've been known to listen to the Grammar Girl podcast while mowing the law."

I know I shouldn't mock typos--Lord knows I make enough myself. Still. I'm not sure if I'm more amused by the fact that you made a typo in an article on grammar and spelling, or the fact that if one re-reads this sentence as "mowing down the law" your readers are forced to wonder how much of your violent crime fiction is based in reality.


Jim Murdoch said...

I had to look ‘derp’ up. I think that’s a good thing. I was one of the lucky ones when at school—for one year anyway—we had a teacher in Primary 6 who was a grammar Nazi and I am immensely indebted to her. Yes, before her I knew what a noun was and a verb, I knew sentences began with capital letters and ended with full stops but we never dissected sentences the way she made us. I discovered adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions and prepositions. And clauses and cases and tenses. It was wonderful. I bitterly regret it all ending because although I’m better than most I am still nowhere near as good as I need to be to write the way I think. Luckily I have a wife who is twelve years older than me and who did receive a decent grounding in grammar; she edits all my writing and saves me from embarrassing myself.

Loren Eaton said...



I knew it was going to happen, I just knew it ...

Loren Eaton said...


I wish I'd had a teacher like that. My education came at the hands of overworked editors with little toleration for errors. Of course, it did make me learn.

Also, derp is frightening.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

On the bright side, I do want to see a story in which a protagonist listens to the Grammar Girl podcast while mowing down policemen. If I had time and energy, I'd write it myself.

Chestertonian Rambler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chestertonian Rambler said...

Relatedly, when did the term "Nazi" come to be a compliment? People talk respectfully about Grammar Nazis, and a recent cooking show praised a five-star chef for being "a real Nazi" about his ingredient selections.

I imagine that at some point in the future, someone will refer to Oskar Schindler as "a real Nazi" because of his obsessive, unrelenting diligence at keeping Jews out of concentration camps. At that point, I think the English language will explode.

Loren Eaton said...


Interesting. I've never thought of the term "Grammar Nazi" as anything positive. I see it mostly used to describe someone who's overly harsh about small verbal points. Kind of like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.

That Grammar Girl story? Maybe I'll write it.