Written by Amie Gant, Career Center Communication and Design Assistant, Bachelor of Science, Professional Writing.
Poor grammar and punctuation habits may be harder to break than you think, especially if you are practicing these poor habits daily on a social media site such as Facebook. Some Facebook users take their posts quite seriously, and you probably have at least one or two Facebook friends who fall into this category. These friends’ posts are well-manicured, carefully punctuated, and appropriately capitalized. They proofread everything from the ranting paragraph to the single-word update. Bravo to those Facebook users! Unfortunately, there is another category of Facebook users who are not as attentive; I fall into this category.
If you are like me, I rarely proofread my Facebook posts, and I give a casual la-dee-dah! to grammar and punctuation rules. Want to know the worst thing? I am an English Major. I should be a grammar nerd. All the time. Everywhere. While I do have a great fondness for diagramming sentences, editing, and proofreading, unfortunately, my inner grammar nerd visits me only when I am in an academic or work environment. That’s okay, I’ve always thought, I will pay close attention to my comma usage when I have a serious email to write. I can afford to slack off on Facebook. Wrong!
Correct grammar and punctuation usage requires constant practice even for the nerdiest of grammar nerds. Throughout my college years, I have noticed a decline in my own grammar skills. I have said, “Eh, I’ll worry about it when it’s important,” so many times that I have lost many of the writing skills I once took for granted. This seems terribly ironic, doesn’t it? I am a senior in college, after all! But, think about it. I have convinced myself that Facebook is my space to do with what I will, and while this is certainly true, what is it doing to my professionalism? Typing “ur” does nothing to remind me which “ur” I’m referring to. Is it “your” or “you’re” and how can I distinguish between these with “ur”? I can’t. And normally, I don’t care, because in the back of my mind I assure myself that, when the time comes, I’ll simply remember the correct usage.
Poor grammar habits follow me from the safety of my Facebook page to the academic and professional world. I don’t always capitalize the letter “i”, nor do I always use an apostrophe when it’s needed. Because my eyes have grown accustomed to this on social media, I don’t always catch it when I am emailing my professors (heaven help you if you email an English professor with a message full of “im”, “ive”, and “ill”). How can I expect a professor to recommend me for an internship or a Graduate Assistantship if I cannot maintain my credibility and responsibility through my writing?
Please, tell me I’m not the only one.
The truth is, I don’t always remember the finer points of grammar, and it usually happens in the most unfortunate circumstances. For instance, my office supervisor asked me to spellcheck and proofread the hardcopy of an email, but I did not have a spellchecker nor Google to back me up. My supervisor just stared at me, waiting for me to put pen to paper. This has also happened to me once when I applied for a job. Part of the pre-interview paperwork included a spelling test, a punctuation test, and a word usage test. I didn’t get the job.
How does incorrect grammar and punctuation in a professional environment affect your credibility? Everyone makes mistakes, but if your punctuation is rusty, to an educated eye, your repetitive errors may make you seem careless. Often, we are judged by our ability to write effectively, and whether it is fair or not, careless writing can make us seem unintelligent and irresponsible. Typos happen to the best of us, but whenever I make a mistake at work—it is embarrassing—and all I can think is, “If only I had been practicing all this time.”
I post to Facebook at least once every day. That is a chance to practice my writing skills at least once a day. I can check my spelling and ensure I have used apostrophes correctly. Have I properly used fewer or less? Done or finished? Then or than? If I don’t know the answer, someone else will, and they probably won’t take me seriously. I have also noticed that I do not always write in complete thoughts and sentences anymore. Do I have a subject and verb? Am I working with independent or dependent clauses? How do I punctuate them?
I have often wondered if I would be comfortable friending a future employer on Facebook, and the answer is absolutely not, never in a hundred years, no. Why? Because that employer might scroll back and see my desecration of the English language.
I am not saying don’t relax on your own Facebook page; I am simply offering up my own errors for your consideration. Of course, this can apply to your text messages and other social media outlets just the same. No matter how grammar savvy you may be, nurturing bad habits of carelessness day after day can deteriorate your skills and spread through the different facets of your professional life. Regardless of your career field, you should practice proper grammar and punctuation until you form professional habits that will make you marketable, not laughable. Aristotle said, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit. Don’t let your writing habits be anything less.