Is Grammar or Content More Important in Business Writing?

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published July 10, 2009, updated May 4, 2021
Is Grammar or Content More Important in Business Writing?

Is grammar or content more important in business writing?grammar or content in business writing

And, perhaps a related question is: why do so many people dislike grammar, to the point where the dislike spreads to grammarians and English teachers and – dare I add – business writing consultants?

Some examples:

  • In every business writing course I teach, when we start to address grammar and syntax, I can feel participants become tense. I need to draw them back in with reassurance the grammar we will review is not punitive or judgmental. It’s about clarity. I have to be careful not to reopen old wounds inflicted by a harsh grammar teacher so many encountered somewhere in their educational paths. Participants often need to vent about this, the scars run so deep. (I empathize, as I was truly tortured by Sister Rose Carmel, my high school English teacher. It’s amazing my love of writing endured past her dungeon-like classroom.)

  • Two weeks ago, I coached a highly successful pharmaceutical scientist. He apologized profusely for his “poor writing.” After some probing, I realized his writing ability is quite good. His analytical skills are exceptional. He made two consistent grammar errors, which were easily corrected. Too often, I meet with technical people who believe they will never “become good writers” because of self-defeating perceptions, fostered by easily correctable grammar issues.

Some business writing consultants recommend that business writing be organized primarily by a “GPS” process, based on G=Grammar, P=Punctuation, and S=Syntax.

I disagree.

  • In business writing, content is critical. If we write a status report with perfect grammar, syntax and punctuation, but omit a software defect from the report, the cost implications, errors, and team impact is exponential.
  • If we write a sales letter that is grammatically perfect, but reflects a smug tone, we alienate a potential client.
  • A customer service letter that omits the action needed to resolve a customer dispute, no matter how grammatically perfect, still fails.

Grammar and syntax and punctuation are the backbone of language structure. These rules allow each of us to speak and write our common language. Language is continually evolving, which makes it so interesting. I do not mean to imply that grammar is not important. Grammar is very important. But, full mastery of grammar alone does not mean one is an effective business writer. Conversely, grammar errors are very easy to train away.

Audience perception, content, organization, structure, and style and tone and grammar all matter.

And, of all these requisite skills, grammar is the easiest to correct. It’s simply a matter of learning correct rules and then establishing a habit of practice for that rule in your writing.

I believe we impede business writing when grammar takes precedence over other equally important elements of business writing. And, we alienate many business people from enjoying writing when we professionals wield smarmy judgment along with our red correction pens.

Grammar is an important element in writing. It’s part of a writing process that all business people can learn to manage well, along with the many other business tasks they so competently manage.

If you need grammar training, this course will correct any errors. Do not worry about grammar; errors are easily corrected.

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published July 10, 2009, updated May 4, 2021
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.