October 2009 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Bad Grammar is Bad for Business

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Amber Cook
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist

There’s a gym not far from my house. The gym’s marquee last week read like this:

NO CONTRACT MEMBERSHIPS
AVAILABLE

Now, it’s certainly possible that this gym has run out of contract memberships: Perhaps they had memberships that require a contract, and there are no more available. If you’ve ever been to a gym, though, you probably know that contracts are pretty much always available. Just TRY to join a gym without signing one.

It’s probably safe to assume, then, that this gym intended to advertise no-contract memberships (memberships that do not require a contract). Here, that teeny-tiny missing hyphen means the difference between turning customers away and inviting them to try a new type of membership.

Granted, not every driver passing that sign last week was a grammar nerd like me. Maybe most readers made the same assumption I did, mentally supplying the needed hyphen. In communicating, though, one goal is to reach as many people as possible with the clearest possible message. Even if only 20% of the readers were confused by the missing hyphen, that’s still a significant loss of potential customers.

The next time you’re passing by the marquee in front of your workplace (or any other public written work that represents your company), try to see it from the perspective of your potential consumer. Perhaps you can catch an error that will lead to more business. Who knew good grammar could be so profitable?

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Accessible Grammar

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Jamie Patterson
By Jamie Patterson, Writing Specialist

One of my favorite residency sessions is a 90 minute grammar class that includes a lot of references to pop culture. At the end of the session we include a picture quiz where we ask students to identify the incorrect grammar on a store sign, on a billboard, or in a song. Sometimes we even use celebrity messages to their fans. Is it completely fair to apply grammar and APA rules outside of the classroom? Maybe not. But there are advantages to recognizing the dissonance between the writing standards expected here at Walden and what you are exposed to in your life outside of the university.

Many of the points we go over in this grammar class are meant to be friendly reminders of rules we’ve been learning since our grade school years. In fact, many EdD students leave this grammar class and comment that they’d like to use the same presentation in their own elementary school classrooms. Should it be alarming to you, as graduate students, that material we’re teaching at the graduate level is relevant at your local grade school? I hope not.

Grammar rules are much like APA rules: Many of them should be accessible to the earliest level of learners. After all, including a serial comma was never meant to be rocket science. It was, however, meant to ensure clarity and accessibility to thought. This becomes increasingly more important as you take on multidimensional and complicated research to affect social change.

Considering the accessibility of grammar rules, why is it that even your local grocery store has signs that say “10 items or less” when less should be replaced with fewer? Why are there signs posted that say “no pets, shirts & shoes required” (Better: No pets. Shirts & shoes required)? Why would Christina Aguilera tell fans “Today is a joyful and special day for Jordan and I” (should be Jordan and me)?

We might have been exposed to many of these grammar rules at an early age but there are as many grammar rules as there are words. Pop culture and our everyday environment certainly don’t help us in our struggle to understand the nuances of language rules. For those of us who have dedicated our professional, academic, and personal lives to the craft of writing there is still something new to learn every day. Take advantage of our expertise and drop in on one of our classes at an upcoming residency or email us with questions: writingsupport@waldenu.edu. I’ll tell you now what we tell the students at the end of our residency session on grammar: Being a grammarian is being aware of the details that surround us on a daily basis. Being aware of details is bound to make you a better student, a better researcher, and (our hope) a better writer.

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