Like it or not, some people are super judgemental about how others use their language. What may seem completely trivial to one person could turn out to be an unforgivable sin to another.
I will admit that I can be like that at times, and it’s not necessarily my most endearing quality. That said, as someone who teaches at the university level, I do expect my students to maintain a certain standard in their papers and presentations, because I know they will be judged by some people on how they do so, and I don’t want them judged unfairly. To be clear – I would hate to see one of my students deemed less intelligent than they really are simply because of a completely avoidable language problem.
The same thing occurs in the AEC world every day. I remember distinctly how important this stuff was to Jerry Allen, the long-term CEO of Carter & Burgess – a company that grew like crazy during the period of 1989-2002 and is now part of Jacobs. If someone made more than two minor errors on their resume or cover letter, Jerry would use that as a reason to immediately disqualify them from further consideration. Just think – not only are there firm principals and managers who think like that, there are also clients, regulators, and bureaucrats who think the same way. People can be tough!
If you don’t want your people or yourself to be judged unfairly, here are a few common problems that must always be avoided:
- “Your” vs. “you’re.” If I had a dollar for every time someone wrote, “your welcome” to me in a text or email, I’d probably be as well-off as Warren Buffett! Don’t do it.
- “Too” vs. “to.” Another common problem in writing. “That beam is to long,” or “We need those, to,” are just plain cringeworthy.
- “Alls” vs. “all.” My youngest kids say “alls I need to know,” regularly – and my wife corrects them – regularly!
- “Him and I.” This should never happen. Drop the “I” and you wouldn’t say, “Him went to the store,” would you?
- “That looked good to John and I.” This is super common! See the point directly above this one. It should be “John and me!” Drop the other part and read the sentence. “That looked good to I,” sounds ridiculous.
- “Had went” vs. “had gone.” We had someone at Zweig Group years ago who did this daily. I always felt we couldn’t let him get in front of a client because of it.
- “Orientated” vs. “oriented,” or “disorientated” vs. “disoriented.” The latter is correct.
- “Exercise regiment” vs. “exercise regimen.” We aren’t generals and it’s not a regiment. Misusing “regime” as a synonym for “regimen” is also common.
- “Sale” vs. “sell.” I don’t know if it is a regional thing or not, but I can’t tell you how many times I have actually read where someone wants to “sale a project” instead of “sell one.” It’s even more of a crime when they want to “sale something at their sell,” and yes, I have seen that written more than once.
- Apostrophes on plurals. This is everywhere today. “We have a half-dozen Jeep Gladiator’s as our company vehicles” is not correct. I have even seen company signs with this error. Don’t do it!
You have to get your people in the habit of checking their spelling and grammar if they don’t want to make these kinds of mistakes. Formatting is critical, also. I won’t even get into the long letters and emails that are written entirely as a single paragraph. It can give you a headache just to read them. Or how large blocks of text are center-justified instead of left-justified on websites or PowerPoint presentations. Try reading a paragraph of anything that is center-justified.
Some people reading this will think none of these things are important at all, and that I am being a pill for writing about it. It may not be important to you. But just because it isn’t important to you doesn’t mean it isn’t important to someone else – like a client. Can you really afford not to care?
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.