Why Grammar Should Matter to You

From résumés and cover letters to narratives, make sure your grammar holds up

Tables are for eating customers only.

You read the restaurant sign again, and once you are sure it is not a case of “eat or be eaten,” you order food. To go.

Ah, grammar. It can make a world of difference in how you approach a business establishment or how a company approaches you. How a writer tells a story and how an editor makes sure it is interpreted correctly.

Cathleen Small, one of our Professional Sequence in Editing instructors, provided that example when I asked for her take on why grammar is important to everyday life.

“Grammar matters because without it you get cringeworthy errors,” she replies.

“But my more serious answer is that using proper grammar in your communications sets you apart from the rest. Even if the person reading your correspondence doesn’t actively think, ‘Wow, nice use of grammar!’ they certainly notice. If two people with similar qualifications submit a résumé and cover letter for an open job, and one has a flawless cover letter while the other one has some grammatical errors, I guarantee the error-free, grammatically correct one will get the first call.”

And that is just one of the many reasons why grammar skills matter.

In Your Professional Life

Cover Letters and Résumés

According to a February 2020 article on careertoolbelt.com, typographical errors—commonly referred to as typos—hinder your ability to make a good first impression. A lack of attention to detail in a cover letter, which in many cases is the organization’s introduction to you and what you bring to the table, can be a red flag.

Alison Doyle, a Career Tool Belt contributor, says:

“What you have to say (and how you write) will be most important, but formatting, spelling and grammar are equally important. After all, almost all jobs require strong communication skills and a sharp attention-to-detail, so hiring managers will be looking to see these skills play out in your résumé and cover letter.”

Avoiding typos and other grammatical errors in your documents is especially important if the job to which you are applying is in a writing, editing or marketing capacity.

Drew Roark on TopResume® agrees:

“Mistakes on your résumé can expose traits about yourself, which can ultimately keep an employer from offering you a job. Employers are less concerned about your spelling (knowing you probably just made a typo) and more concerned with the fact that you overlooked an error, which speaks volumes about your tendencies.”

In Education

College Applications and Personal Essays

The importance of grammar skills extends into other areas, such as when you want to apply to colleges or universities or be admitted into a specialized educational program. In addition to knowing how to write a cover letter and edit your résumé to be free of errors, you may also need to submit a personal statement or essay as part of your application.

But would a grammatical error on one of those documents really keep you from your educational goal? It could, according to Randeep Kullar, manager for Berkeley Global’s Career Services.

“The biggest thing that I've noticed in reviewing any kind of document—whether it be résumés, cover letters, admissions essays, et cetera—is that the minute there is a grammatical error, it pulls me away from the content,” says Randeep.

“It's an automatic red flag for me that makes me wonder things like:

  • Is the error due to the individual not paying attention to detail?

  • Did they not review their work?

  • Did they not take this opportunity seriously?

  • What does this mean if I were to admit this individual to a program?

    • Will they be able to clearly communicate?

    • Will they make small mistakes because they don't pay attention to detail or review their work?

“Once this reaction has passed, I look to find context.”

Context can play a big part in understanding grammar, for both the writer and the reader. For example, if your grammar mistake is one typo, it might be overlooked. But if it is a consistent issue throughout the document, you’d better have another piece of work that shows that you have a balanced and holistic understanding of your application.

Randeep also takes into account if English is a second language for an applicant.

“If I see that this may be the case, then I will take this into consideration and give them a bit of leeway, as learning another language is a feat unto itself that shows how adaptable and versatile the individual is in other ways.

“Overall, grammar is important, and it points to a variety of skills that employers, schools, et cetera, look for in candidates. However, any good reviewer of an application will take context into consideration and look at supporting documentation or details, if available, that paint a more comprehensive approach of a candidate.”

Let’s look a little deeper at the role of English language in grammar.

Understanding the English Language

Longtime Grammar, Mechanics and Usage for Editors course instructor Barbara Magalnick believes in grammar’s everyday importance, and that you need to understand the structure of the English language.

“Every language has its own structure, and English is particularly interesting because it’s a modern language—only about 1,500 years old,” Barbara says. “I like students to be aware of the basic sentence patterns in English because they can use them to build a solid grammar foundation.

“I don’t believe in ‘prescriptive grammar’—grammar that teaches students rules about how language should be. This kind of ‘grammar teaching’ attempts to convince students that they cannot end a sentence with a preposition (never mind that Milton and Shakespeare did it regularly).”

Another benefit of understanding English grammar and any anomalies for your everyday missives? A deeper comprehension of what you read.

“I’ve noticed through the years—and very much so in the Extension courses I teach—that those who do well with grammar seem to have good reading comprehension. Because good reading comprehension is important for all subjects, I cannot stress how important it is to have a strong background in grammar.”

Grammar Knowledge Is a Science

Grammar can be especially important when you are writing a grant proposal, making another type of ask or sending any type of business communication. A blog post on CXL points out that grammar mistakes can cost companies money. Proper grammar matters across fields.

It can also cost you job advancement. According to that same blog post:

  • “Professionals who failed to progress to a director-level position within the first 10 years of their careers made 2.5 times as many grammar mistakes as their director-level colleagues.

  • Fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions. The study found that professionals with one to four promotions over their 10-year careers made 45% more grammar errors than those with six to nine promotions in the same time frame.”

Those unfavorable outcomes are why it’s so important to understand the mechanics of grammar and how to use it correctly.

“Grammar is critical to spoken and written language; if humans didn't know what order to put our words in, we would really struggle to communicate verbally,” says instructor Liz Asborno, who has worked in publishing for more than 30 years in various roles.

“There is both an art and a science to writing; grammar is the science,” Liz continues.

So while understanding and utilizing best grammar practices may seem like a job requirement if you’re solely working in a writing or editing position, we see that’s not the case. It’s important for anybody to make sure that his or her message is heard and understood—through the use of good grammar.

Let’s return to our sign example from earlier.

To avoid potential customers first thinking they could be eaten in your restaurant, consider how you would edit: Tables are for eating customers only.

Don’t let a grammar mistake affect your bottom line.