Grammar is the least important element of good writing

             


Posted May 29, 2019

Before you accuse Hurley Write of hating on grammar after that provocative title, let us explain!

Grammar is definitely an important component of good writing: the rules of the English language (or any language) don’t exist to make its users’ lives more difficult, but rather to ensure consistency and clarity in communications. By following the standardized conventions of language, we increase the likelihood that our audience will accurately understand what we’re trying to say.

However, grammar isn’t necessarily at the heart of good writing. As author Mark Twain said, “Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter, and not the trimmings and shadings of their grammar.”
 
What does he mean by that, and how does that sentiment apply to the business world?
 
We would argue that critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing strategy are the real foundations of successful writing. After all, good grammar won’t save a document if it fails to achieve the author’s goal for it, or if it doesn’t fit its intended application. Only those three keys – critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing strategy – can lead to a written work that works.
 
This is perhaps especially true in the business world, where so much of the writing produced is explicitly goal-driven. If the business writer wants her proposal, report, memo, or email to create some change or trigger some action in the reader, the writer must think strategically about her writing.
 
We talk about this in our white paper about Critical Thinking in Writing. In that piece, we define critical thinking as:
 
“The process of identifying and solving problems by gathering information, analyzing and evaluating evidence, discovering patterns, and reasoning logically. Critical thinking in writing means asking the right questions and questioning the old, no-longer-obvious answers. It means, in the end, finding solutions that are effective and efficient—and, often, new.”
 
Critical thinking thus means evaluating and answering key questions about the written work, its intended use, and its target audience. Who will be reading it? What’s the desired outcome? Why should they care about the topic? What information should be included? What’s the best way to present the information?
 
Ultimately, the author must use her critical thinking and problem-solving skills to ensure the written work communicates what it needs to bring about a desired outcome. Often, this is like solving a puzzle. Figuring out how to get the reader to care and how to use the document to solve a specific problem are the fundamental skills that underlie good writing. Grammar is simply secondary until the writer has mastered those abilities.
                                                
Unfortunately, even fewer authors have mastered this skillset than have learned good grammar. One study found that only about a third of participants believed themselves to be well-trained in critical thinking! Thankfully, businesses today have many options for training their employees to become better writers through these foundational skills.
 
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.