June, 2009
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Grammar & Etiquette Online: Important or Not?


As we enter a new era of communications, the electronic one, the question of grammar and proper etiquette often arises. The entire method of information exchange has changed with the technology. Few of us ever used a smilie :-) in our written communications. Now, presidents of conservative corporations feel free to do so. This is a strange, new world!

Points to ponder
  • On the Internet, there is near universal acceptance of slang. It is a practical necessity. Even the most proper purveyors of grammar will let mistakes slide.

  • However, we do need to be careful to insure that our casual use of the language does not infect our off-line correspondence. The same individual who will forgive errors online will trash your business proposal for the same mistake found in an advertisement or letter.

  • Always remember that first impressions count for more than they should! Even when it may be acceptable to use slang or shortcuts in your online communications, it may be wise to refrain from doing so.

  • I’m not saying that this is the way that it should be, only that it is. As an infamous slayer of good grammar, I can attest to the damage that can be done.
An amusing story?

I still have the actual copy of a prospecting letter that I once sent and also received! It was the typical “I have a buyer who is looking for a home in your neighborhood” correspondence. I even offered to reduce my commission if anyone responded and the customer subsequently purchased the home.

I received one reply. Ozora McCarthy (of 2880 Renfrew, Ann Arbor, Michigan) took the letter and wrote, in red pen, the following:

Nice letter, nice stationary, nice offer on my home — but I would NEVER do business with a person who signs his name scribblescribblescribble.”

You see, in an effort to be personal in my prospecting, I used to hand sign each and every letter I sent, even if that meant autographing hundreds of mailings! Well, by signature 143 or so, you can imagine that my autograph was not a work of beauty.

Ozora hand wrote the above message on my letter itself, in rather poor script I might add, folded it in three, placed a 22-cent-stamp on it (now you know how long I’ve kept this damn thing!) and mailed it back to me.

The Lesson

Other than the obvious: Ozora McCarthey is a narrow-minded, mean-spirited, petty and insignificant excuse for a human being (just pulling it out of my “saved letters” file still steams me), there is a lesson to be learned; which is why I saved the letter in the first place.

There are millions of folks out there just like Ozora, and they are your potential clients and customers! Like it or not, they will judge you on some pretty insignificant criteria. That’s just the way it is.

So, what did I do? I spent $20 to purchase a self-inking stamp of my signature. Actually, it’s a stamp of what my signature looks like after twenty tries to have the kind of signature that I think Ozora would approve of; and nobody’s complained about my autograph since.

Before you say, “Stephen, why bother? Why didn’t you just shrug it off and get on with your business? Why even give this person a moment of your time?” let me answer your question.

Ozora Did Me A Favor!

For every person who will correct your grammar, signature or other minor flaw in your advertising and/or correspondence, there must be at least ten others who won’t do business with you for the same reason! These other people just are not as mean-spirited, or don’t have the time, to correct your correspondence and send it back.

In returning my letter, Ozora has allowed me to correct a rather minor flaw in my prospecting technique. A minor flaw which would have certainly continued to undermine the effectiveness of all of my business communications!

The Technological Application

I don’t use the stamp very much anymore. Several years ago, I scanned my own signature into my computer graphics program, cleaned it up and colorized it.
Now, my autograph is perfect (as much as it ever will be) and the computer signs my prospecting correspondence for me. This is a real time-saver, and a wrist-saver, too!
I would suggest you do the same!

The content of this article is based on my seminar, Proven Steps To Effective E-mail. Preparing Professionals for Competition in Tomorrow’s Marketplace.
Copyright © 1995-2009 Stephen M. Canale. Reprinted with permission.