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How do I persuade people that grammar is important?


I'm currently updating my report writing course, which includes a section on writing clearly. This includes writing in plain English and using correct grammar and punctuation. However, the grammar & punctuation section was rather schoolish, and sometimes I haven't managed to convince the group that grammar and punctuation are really important.

Does anyone have any suggestions for putting this message across convincingly?
Nici Aldridge

5 Responses

  1. Try comparing language use
    Maybe you could try comparing the ways we use language?

    Try getting the learners to compare the way a barrister uses language in a courtroom to the way you’d speak to your mate in the pub…or perhaps compare the language used in a broadsheet newspaper to that used in a tabloid.

  2. Examples
    I do this by giving practical examples of sentences where the same words are used, but the meaning is totally changed by the punctuation.

    For example, there is the (probably apocryphal) story of Queen Victoria, who on becoming queen said “I will be good.” Try changing the punctuation to “I will be? Good.”

    Of course there are many more useful and complex examples you can use, often culled from small ads in local newspapers. These are often badly written and convey completely inappropriate meanings.

    I usually close with the grammatically correct caveat “this is the kind of English up with which I will not put” (attributed to Churchill).

  3. Fun headlines
    Fun games seem to do the trick. I used one of these chain emails about the 20 most ridiculous headlines.I asked the participants to change them around or subsitute words to get the correct meaning. ‘Tornado rips through cemetery; hundreds dead.’ Or ‘Stolen painting found by tree’.
    If you would like more examples of these headlines, please let me know. I can email them to you.


  4. Good Grammar Pays!

    Ultimately, with business people, you need to show them WHY learning good grammar is important–it pays! Just think of the impression potential customers get when they read a proposal or a website containing serious, obvious grammar errors. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and it can cost you big money!

    Check out our website for some ideas on teaching grammar and writing to business people. We’ve been teaching business writing for 20 years in the US.

    Scott Stein

  5. The importance of correct grammar
    When I run business writing courses, I like to include examples of poorly written promotional material that I have received myself and then ask the group, “Would you buy from this person?”

    My favourite is a letter, from a PR consultant, that contained over a dozen grammatical and spelling errors, together with a plethora of misquotations, from the likes of Johnson and Roosevelt, which the writer wrongly imagined would enhance his sales pitch.

    The usual response of the group to this letter is “no chance” and I can then readily make the point that their own ungrammatical submissions will probably get similar treatment.

    This activity can readily be amended to fit communications that are not of a sales nature, by making the point that poor communication skills can destroy credibility in any situation.


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