Don't Be a Dumbass

Thursday, April 8, 2010
You know, I don't know how many times I've had this conversation with people I've mentored, or led, or raised.

Learning how to communicate effectively, in writing, is an invaluable skill.

Typically, it doesn't matter how smart you are, how critically you think, how great your ideas are - if you can't communicate your ideas effectively using the written word, then it's unlikely people are going to take you seriously. Can't spell? Use poor grammar? Can't form a complete sentence? Then it's quite likely that people will assume you're uneducated, or stupid, or both.

This is not a conversation about what's "fair." You can justify your poor skills by giving examples of geniuses who may not have been able to write effectively, but here, in the real world, no one cares. No one will ever know about your fabulous/groundbreaking/innovative ideas if you can't communicate them to the world in an effective way. If you write poorly, people will just assume you're a dumbass, and be done with it.

I bring this up because in spite of the stereotype associated with engineering types, I am capable of writing effectively on a professional basis. My proposals are succinct and well-written, and I'm clear in my intent and my delivery. When I was in the Navy, I wrote the performance evaluations for every person above and below me in the chain of command for two levels. It helps that I like to write, of course - but it's not like my skills came with me, fully formed, from my father's brow. I had to work at it. Sometimes I get sloppy on my blog, but if I write something for which I'm being paid, you can bet it's clear and concise.

Nothing chaps my ass more than someone whose job title is supposed to include rudimentary writing skills who can't put a sentence together to save their damn life. I'm not talking about the ignorant trailer trash who leave nonsensical rants on the various extremist websites (although they're a sad, sorry lot, too). I'm talking about people who have a job that requires them to communicate effectively with others, in writing, who don't know that "a lot" is two words, or that "irregardless" isn't a real word. Seriously? Irregardless? Where did you take freshman English? Did you even pass freshman English?

Learning to write well, whether it's an e:mail, a proposal, or a technical explanation, is one of the ways quality people are differentiated from their more lackluster peers. Learn it, live it, love it. Or go work at Jiffy Lube, where no one gives a good gaddamn if you can write, or not.

Capice?

10 comments:

The Mechanicky Gal said...

What a coincidence! I am going through just this. I can lead a horse to water, but I cannot make him/her understand grammar and composition.
And when that individual is watching golf on the internet....
well all I can say is one day, mi Amigo, you will have this whole rice bowl.
And THEN I will ride off into the sunset, cackling with glee......

WendyB_09 said...

Oh, I'm old school on this subject. As in the everybody should understand how to diagram a sentence correctly school of thought.

Most of my elementary & jr high teachers impressed the importance of correct grammar into our still forming brains. The one that made the biggest impression though was my 9th grade English teacher, Miss H. We suspected she was born an old spinster English teacher, but that may have been a rumor she started to keep us in line. You either learned how to correctly diagram a sentence, and what each little branch meant, or you did not pass and therefore did not get to graduate Jr High with the rest of your class.

We learned. Boy, did we learn.

Fast forward to my return to college in the early '90's. Knowing that I would end up doing a lot of writing (and before the IT program had a technical writing section) I selected an Advanced Grammar course as an elective. I was one of two people in the class that had ever diagramed a sentence. The professor was the other.

I had a whole lot of young, eager future elementary and English teachers for friends that year.

Will (Astra Navigo) said...

My favorite?

It comes from a fellow who was a senior VP at a company for which I used to work. He began:

"For all intensive purposes...."

No joke. Really....

Janiece said...

::snirk::

Megan said...

tl;dr

Megan said...

HAHAHAHAHA. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Janiece said...

Megan, I was wondering when you'd show up on this one.

Hehe.

Steve Buchheit said...

Yes. Yes. And, did I say, yes?

Actually, I couldn't care less if they use perfectly grammatical English or not. Just, please dear Brid, let me understand WTF they're trying to communicate.

Alex said...

It obviously isn't important anymore. Instead we have things like text2speech that goes out of the way to screw up a language that generations have spent trying to clean up.

My children send me a text message that is not completely typed out with correct spelling and it gets ignored. Someday they may even learn.

WendyB_09 said...

Worse, the people who use texting shortcuts when they send regular email. In business communications.

Sigh.