Why Good Grammar Matters -- And How to Get Better

Most educated people in the US know that writing with good grammar, spelling, and punctuation -- particularly in professional contexts -- is obviously important. We know that we need to be mostly flawless here and, in fact, most of us are. (Of course, everyone is prone to some typos, myself included!) From what I've been told on Quora, flawless grammar, spelling, and punctuation is not as prized in India. In some cases, it may not even really be taught. As one person put it, people care about communicating the correct meaning, but don't necessarily prioritize communicating 100% correctly.

Well, I'm here to tell those people that they're (mostly) wrong. Good grammar, spelling, and punctuation do matter.

Why Good Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation Matters

Let's start with some facts. I'm not going to debate the ethics of these facts being true. I'm just stating them as facts.

  1. In the US, educated people tend to write basically completely correctly.
  2. Many Americans, observing this correlation between correctness of writing and education, will assume that someone who does not write correctly is either: (1) uneducated; (2) sloppy; (3) unprofessional; or (4) all of the above.
  3. Thus, if you do not write correctly, you will likely be assumed to be uneducated / sloppy / unprofessional / something else bad.

Yes, these Americans generally do (and certainly should) understand that English is a hard language to master because it has so many exceptions. There is some allowance for being a non-native English speaker.

However, this "allowance" will only go so far. If you're making mistakes that people feel you should know are wrong, they won't be quite as forgiving. For example, it's easy to learn the difference between "your" and "you're." If you're confusing these frequently, is it that you're a non-native English speaker? Or do you just not care?

Note: I'm not saying that people should feel this way. I'm only saying that they do. I recognize that given that students in India often aren't taught these rules, aren't taught that they matter, and/or are surrounded by people making similar mistakes. It's much harder for students to learn to write totally correctly, so it's unfair to judge them by American standards (or possibly even those of other non-native English speakers). Moreover, the correlation between education and correctness of writing is not nearly so strong in India, so this assumption that bad grammar = uneducated is just wrong. Unfortunately, people will still think it's true.

So what should you do about this? You can either try to wage a one-man/woman war and convince all Americans that it's fine that you don't write correctly. You can choose to never interact with Americans (and never have any work you do in India touch the US), to avoid this prejudice. Or, you could actually learn to write correctly. Personally, I'd suggest the latter.

How to Improve

There are the obvious sources to improve your writing. If you're confused about a rule, look it up. There are plenty of sources on the internet (GrammarGirl is one of my favorites) which can tell you what the rule is. Or, watch how native English speakers write. If they tend to do a particular thing (like not have a space before a comma or period), you can be reasonably sure that they're correct.

I've also started a new resource: a blog / board on Quora. This is not targeted specifically at Indian English speakers. However, most of the issues I discuss are pulled from the mistakes I see regularly and, because I work with many Indians, they tend to be issues common with Indians. I try to, as much as possible, keep it simple and offer an easy rule of thumb.

So far the topics I've discussed are:

Follow my board on Quora: English for Non-Native Speakers. (Tip: turn on email notifications so that you are notified when I post something new.)

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