A Blog by Scott Isaacs

The Importance of Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

So how important do you think correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are in the following situations?

  • Business e-mails
  • Personal e-mails
  • Instant messages
  • Blog posts
  • Twitter tweets
  • Online forum posts
  • Text messages
  • Writing code

I used to be terrible at punctuation and grammar when online.  Not because I didn’t know the rules, but because it took too much effort.  I started back in the last half of the 1990s when I started instant messaging and e-mailing lots of people (friends and family).  When I “grew up” and got a real job, I found that this carried over into a lot of my work e-mails as well.  I had enough sense to send “correct” e-mails to customers and clients, but I didn’t seem to find it important for internal messages.

Let me first say that I am sure that almost every post, e-mail, IM and tweet have one or more errors, but somewhere along the way, I’ve changed.  Now, in all but the shortest, three word e-mail responses to close friends or family I make the extra effort to try to clean it up, even if the other person doesn’t do the same.  Even in 95+% of my text messages I try to spell words out, add apostrophes and punctuate.  Even in my code I’ve found that I am better about things — better variable names, more consistent capitalization, more complete sentences in my comments, etc.

I don’t know why I changed on this.  Maybe because I started dealing with more and more customers and got used to it.  Maybe it was the English class I had to take when I finally finished my B.S. program in 2002.  Maybe it was the four years I spent in the interactive department and a newspaper.  Maybe it’s because I thought it would make me cooler (I need all the help I can get).

Anyway, now I have a little dilemma.  Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters.  It’s sometimes hard to put a well constructed sentence together in 140 characters.  Of my whopping 28 tweets so far, only 4 or 5 fail my tests.  Of the rest, most are complete sentences and some are partial sentences similar to news headlines.

There’s no real point to this post.  It was just something I noticed about myself and wondered what thoughts other people have about this.


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  1. Your metablogging days are over maybe, but as this post shows, there are other types of metacommunication.

    I thing writing style evolves by being influenced by things you notice, especially if it is something that bothers you, like certain words being misspelled makes you more careful with them, and run on sentences.

    After Mitch Hedberg died, I stopped using conjunctions completely.

  2. http://

    My personal 2 cents.

    As for casual email with colleagues – nothing much about worrying on grammer etc except some words like “this frigging project does not work.” I learned thru experience that the colleagues (white black or whatever) usually keep emails and can back them up to your supervisor – sometimes notorisously and sometimes unknowingly. So just becareful. If it is about generic email – care not. Some words like resend must be hyphenated.

    Business email and documents – Grammar, spelling and punctuation are essential. Or you will usually get a memo reminding your language with a sheepish grin. Particularly if the document is going into a publication which for my case was always true either that way or this way.

    Inside contacts (inside the company) can be sometimes irky. I used to know a guy (not US Citizen) who reminded me repeatedly that unless I put his first name in the addressing (like – dear chaojin) he refused to reply or act on it. The joke was even if the mail was address only to him (without any cc or bcc), he reminded me again and again. WTF!

    As for IM, I used to do it both for business and friends in and out of the state/city/country. Usuaully followed the manners without cuss words but grammar in IM? LOL. There is no such thing, IMAO (a=arrogant) :-).

    So to sum up, I would rephrase what I am saying.. depending on who you write to, mind your language and manners and grammar and spelling. It does not matter if it is IM, email or a document.

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