Think Grammar Doesn't Matter? It Could Be Holding You Back From a Promotion

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Allison VanNest
Allison VanNest




Many people think that once they leave school, they don't need to worry about grammar. In the real world, most people will just figure out what you mean ... right?

Not quite. Turns out, quality writing can help you get ahead in your career -- and poor writing can hold you back. So if you want to get ahead in the workplace, change careers, or find a job, then it’s time to dust off that dictionary, thumb through your thesaurus, and get a grip on grammar.

At Grammarly, we found some data to back this up. We studied 100 LinkedIn profiles of native English-speakers in the consumer packaged goods industry, and each of the professionals we looked at worked for no more than three employers over the first 10 years of their career. Half were promoted to director-level or above within those 10 years, and the other half were not.

We discovered a correlation between the number of grammar and spelling errors in a profile and the trajectory of that person’s career. Here are some of our study's main takeaways:

  • Professionals whose profiles contained fewer mistakes also achieved higher positions. In fact, those who failed to progress to a director-level position within the first 10 years of their careers made more than twice as many grammar mistakes as their peers.
  • Fewer grammar errors mean more promotions. 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.  
  • Fewer grammar errors are also linked with frequent job changes. Those who remained at the same company for more than 10 years made 20% more grammar mistakes than those who held six jobs during the same period. While sticking with the same company for a decade has its benefits, job-hopping is becoming the new norm.  

Why does writing have such a huge impact on your career? According to Sue Shellenbarger, writing for The Wall Street Journal, “looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials, and cause communications errors.” Few areas of the workplace are untouched by grammar in some way; even if your job doesn’t directly involve writing, chances are you’ll still need to communicate in writing with your coworkers, management, and clients or customers at some point.

It all comes down to the impression you make. Regardless of whether you’re writing a grant proposal to secure thousands of dollars or dashing off an email to another department, your writing reflects the care and skill you take with every task.

It turns out that the way you do anything -- even writing an email -- is usually the way you do everything. “How you handle and manage any situation, challenge or experience in your life is how you probably handle all of them,” says Life Coach Laura Campbell. She has discovered this truth in the lives of countless clients, and our study of LinkedIn professionals seems to confirm it: Sloppy writers tend to have more stagnant, less successful careers. Whether they’re actually less skilled and talented than their peers or whether they are merely perceived as being so, they suffer fewer promotions, flatter career trajectories, and lower positions in their companies.

How to Improve Your Grammar

Sounds pretty grim, right? What can you do to be a better writer? We’ve put together six suggestions to help you improve.

1) Make a list of commonly misspelled words.

Spell check has made many of us lazy spellers, but you shouldn’t rely solely on the wavy red line to highlight your errors. Keep a list of words that give you trouble and double-check them whenever you use them in your writing.  

2) Embrace the serial comma … or don’t.

Create your own basic grammar guidelines and be consistent in using them. For example, if you choose to adopt the serial comma (and you really should), use it every time.

3) Study up on the basics.

For most of us, English class is but a distant memory. So take the time to brush up on the basics. One great place to start is Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl blog -- it's full of valuable insights and frequently asked questions. Be sure to check out her podcast, too.

4) Read more.

Leo Babauta, author of the popular Zen Habits blog, believes that reading is essential for all of us, but it is especially beneficial for writers. You can learn a lot about writing by reading a wide variety of material including fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, and even blogs.

5) Practice, practice, practice.

Learning any skill takes practice and repetition. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer, a daily journaling habit has a wide range of benefits. Try free writing for 10 minutes every morning with your cup of coffee!

6) Proofread everything.

It’s no surprise that we’re passionate about proofreading at Grammarly. We’re consistently amazed by the number of mistakes that sneak into even the most careful writer’s work.

While poor writing skills can certainly hold you back in the workplace, the good news is that with practice, you can improve!

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Topics: Job Search

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