Is Bad Grammar Hurting Your Business?

Heads Up: Employees and Partners with Poor Grammar Skills are Bad for Business

I bet you and your HR department pay little attention to whether employees and new hires, especially those in positions requiring written communication, have a basic competence in grammar. And you’re probably among the majority of businesses that don’t test employees for grammar skills. Worse, you probably let them write for you without giving it a second thought. In fact, it’s probably never occurred to you that bad grammar is bad for the bottom line.

You may think it’s no big deal for business communication to have errors here and there. You’re not alone. After all, who really cares about getting words like “there,” “their” and “they’re” exactly right when everyone knows what was meant. Today, bad grammar is rampant in business precisely when the pace and volume of written business communication (texts, emails, blog posts) is accelerating. Hectic business environments don’t allow time for editing or thoughtful reflection. Yet, today’s instant communication platforms make words a much bigger part of who we are in business—and make it difficult to control where our words go or who sees them. Given this, the impact of using “odor” instead of “door” can be … well, you get the point.

As common as this scenario is, ignoring bad grammar and general sloppiness in writing is a big mistake. The reach and impact of our words is such that no one can afford to just chuckle and shrug about bad grammar, misspellings, and inappropriate or missing words. When people (employees) lacking essential grammar skills communicate on your company’s behalf, and there’s no established protocol to catch mistakes, the business is exposed to a number of risks.

First, you’ll never hear about it when an employee’s poor writing makes a bad impression. You’ll never really know who it impacted or how. It’s just not something that most readers care enough about to bother reporting. But rest assured they do notice, and not in a good way. They won’t trust you as much, take you as seriously, or be as inclined to come back. In fact, the negative impression made by grammar mistakes and other poor writing is lasting and consequential.

Second, if your organization is so sloppy that you can’t even manage something as basic and simple as English grammar, many readers wonder (even subliminally), “what else is this outfit sloppy or unprofessional about; what other ‘details’ don’t they pay attention to?” You’ve lost credibility. Perception is reality.

Companies revealing a disregard for grammar, or a failure to grasp grammar basics, also reveal a bit about the intelligence and attentiveness of their people. Maybe you think this goes too far. But really, what does it say about their attention to detail in other business matters? In fact, I think it’s also reasonable to perceive a lack of reliability and even trustworthiness. The way I see it, sloppiness in writing reveals much about the writer’s character (or the organization’s) given that writing is such a deliberate, consequential, and permanent form of expression.

Permitting bad grammar in business communication betrays a failure to understand the impact written statements can have and how writing reflects on business authors. Bad grammar, wordiness, and poor structure also make the reader work harder and waste their time. What’s this say about the writer’s respect for their readers? Let’s put it this way: it diminishes the reader’s experience and leaves a bad impression.

If your business doesn’t already grammar test employees or job applicants, it should. Doing so tells you a lot about their aptitude for “focusing on the details.” If they’re not meticulous about their writing, maybe they’re not meticulous at all. It also tells you a lot about their ability to communicate effectively.

Bottom line—don’t let them wince. Good grammar is essential to all companies, because it directly affects how the business is perceived. While few will notice great grammar or give you an award for it, at least they won’t question your competence when reading your writing. But, grammar and spelling errors stand out like a sore thumb. They’re noticed. They make readers wince. And when they wince, they’re questioning whether your company’s people are competent, reliable, or detail oriented, or even trustworthy.


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