Is grammar still important? Gallons of grammarian blood have been shed on this very question, most of it on the arid sands of indifference. Hiring managers are pretty clear on their position, however. According to one recent poll of 600 senior executives conducted by YouGov, reported in the Daily Mail, the biggest CV blunder is spelling or grammar mistakes. You are judged on your communication skills, whether in speech or in writing. The successful development of your personal life, your relationships and your career is now increasingly dependent upon the way in which you express your thoughts, your insights, knowledge and desires into language. How well you accomplish this is just as dependent upon your understanding of grammar. In fact, in so many ways, you are only as good as your grammar.
Hiring managers aside, here are a few other reasons why attention to grammar is important:
- Having bad grammar is like having bad breath. No one will tell you. But everyone will laugh at you behind your back.
- Good grammar is a good indicator of a logical mind and an intellectual rigour, skills which are sought after world-wide.
- Dexterity with grammar enables you to express nuances of meaning. If you’re familiar with Sherlock Holmes, you may recall the incident in which Sherlock Holmes tells Dr Watson about a blow he received, when he makes a point of saying that he “failed to entirely avoid” it (the blow) rather than that he “entirely failed to avoid” it – a much more painful scenario. Just as a good pianist will have mastered the essentials of music theory, so a good wordsmith will have mastered the fundamentals of grammar.
If you’re suitably convinced that having good grammar is important, the question remains of how to acquire it. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Make a Plan
Write down the grammar points you need to focus on and plan to work on each for a sufficient amount of time.
2. Find a Tutor
If you are wincing with horror at the thought of ‘going back to school’, there’s no need. There are plenty of resources online that can serve as your ‘online tutor’, helping you through your weak points. Try any of these free-to-use sites (although there are many good ones):
Chomp Chomp: Sound instruction in the building blocks of English (American English) delivered in a light-hearted fashion.
Grammar Monster: Another great site, this one gets bonus points for its grammar forum and interesting additional content.
University of Bristol: Also very good, geared at learners of British English.
3. Invest in ‘Grammar Resources’
There are a number of resources such as grammar checkers and text editors that will help you pay attention to your use of grammar. Note that although these resources are helpful, they are not by any means foolproof.
4. Read More
There’s no substitute for reading as a way to improve both your written and verbal communication skills. Reading helps you see how English ‘works’ and how grammar is applied; that said, it’s important to choose high quality writing – ‘serious’ newspapers, journals such as the Economist or books by well-regarded authors are good places to start.
You’ll be familiar with this one: Practice makes perfect. Cliché or not, it’s true. So get your pen out and start writing! Consider writing a summary of your day each day using your best English, and see how well you do as judged by a grammar checker.
See also: CV Screening
As you strive to improve your grammar, you will make mistakes. But don’t worry about making mistakes - even ‘serious’ newspapers such as The Times or the Guardian make grammatical slip-ups with comforting regularity, and they have sub-editing departments to fix their writers’ wrongs. But you do need to know the essentials of good grammar. If you feel your grammar isn’t up to scratch, the aforementioned resources should help you.
Let me know how you get on!