Thursday, January 27, 2011

Specs are Specks

Ewe ken under stand watt eye am righting about. Ewe may even bee able too fellow tease directions.

1) Putt you're neigh-aim at them taupe off the Paige.
2) Under lien urine aim.
3) Right don watt ewe way next two it.

How many of you wrote down your name, underlined it and then wrote down your weight next to your name? Probably a few, who took the time to translate the instructions into something that made a little sense. There have been studies that show you can mix up the letters of words, as long as the first and last are correct, and people can still understand what's being written. Recently a blog on a reputable business website claimed that correct spelling and grammar will keep a person from being promoted. (I'm not providing the link because it's not worth reading.)

Spell-checking software won't find mistakes like those used above. However, it's important for efficient, effective communication to use the right words. Awhile ago, I saw a journalistic piece that used the phrase "to illicit a response from the government"; I think they meant "to solicit (or elicit) a response" rather than imply to make something illegal. (Though illicit is an adjective and not a verb, those distinctions are more gray every year with regard to word usage.) I've been criticized for nit-picking and laboring over some specification or contractual documents on the basis that they tend to be too "lawyerly". However, I've noticed that using the accurate term, with a precise meaning, avoids a lot of questions later.

If your customer is trying to communicate what they want, chances are good that they're not doing a good job of it these days. It makes customer satisfaction a tougher job. If you're a manufacturer who supplies to OEM's, chances increase that goods will be returned to you because specifications weren't clear and unambiguous. It's not even a problem of common mistakes: "its" for "it's" (or vice versa); confusion between the to, too and two, or there, their, they're; your versus you're.

I've made the mistake in emails when my fingers were not keeping up with my brain. Occasionally, I've left out the word "not" in sentences. That is a significant word in any sentence (unless one like "it's not nothing that I don't make mistakes"). Even re-reading the text didn't force my brain to say it was missing. I knew what it should say (but it didn't).

Not a new problem, but growing, is the unclear use of pronouns. "The lawyers cited earlier cases for their clients and it shocked them to learn that there was no clear precedent for what they wanted to do." Okay, who is the "them" and the "they"--the lawyers or the clients? Probably not the "cases" based on the context, however, with a different sentence, the cases could lead to a confusion about "them" and "they".

Good communication is important, extremely important in this information age...especially with information and data being transferred at the speed of electrons, and people wanting responses within minutes of an email or instant message or phone text.

I, like my curmudgeonly English teachers of my school days of yore, pine for the high expectations of correct speaking and writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment