Careful Writers Make Good Bedfellows (or at Least Good Housemates)
I was interested to read about a recent University of Michigan study that concluded that people who are highly judgmental about writing errors tend to be more introverted and have less pleasant personalities than those who are more forgiving about people’s flawed writing skills.
The tools of the study were a questionnaire that, when answered by research subjects, enabled researchers to identify the people as introverted or extroverted and to rate them as having easygoing or difficult personalities, along with a set of fake responses to housemate ads. The study concluded that introverts and difficult people were less likely to respond to people who had sent error-ridden replies than extroverts and people with more appealing personalities. Overall, both introverts and difficult people were more likely than extroverts and people who rated higher on healthy personality qualities to be judgmental about errors.
However, the study made a distinction between two types of writing errors: typos, or typographical errors (such as typing mkae instead of make), and grammos, or grammatical errors (such as confusing your and you’re). The study did not pertain to more substantial errors of grammar and syntax such as dangling or misplaced modifiers (or to usage or style errors), but it found that typos were more likely to irk those whose questionnaire responses identified them as introverts, while people determined to have negative personality traits tended to be bothered more by grammos.
Would you be less likely to respond to an email by a prospective housemate whose message was full of errors? I certainly would, which apparently identifies me as an introverted jerk—or as an editor, which is perhaps the same thing.
Why? Because typographical errors indicate carelessness (I make them, too, but I generally identify and correct them before I publish), and I don’t want a careless housemate. I am more forgiving of grammatical errors, because I know that writing skill does not necessarily correlate with intelligence, though I would be concerned about a lack of compatibility with someone who does not know the difference between your and you’re.
Careful writing is important in business communication, and a response to a housemate ad is, in one respect, a business communication, because it involves financial transactions (sharing the costs of rent, utilities, and at least some household supplies). A potential housemate who does not bother to run spell-check before sending me an email is failing to demonstrate diligence. And though I strive not to let grammatical errors annoy me (otherwise, I would have to forgo reading for leisure), I can’t help judging those who do not exercise care in writing.
If you bother to write a job application carefully or to proofread an email before you send it to a colleague, you are likely careful about your correspondence when you seek to be chosen as a housemate (which is, in a sense, like being hired). Whether you choose to be diligent when sending a text message or an email to a friend or posting to social media is up to you (though I assume subscribers to these posts are more likely than the general population to do so).
My role as an editor is to help a writer communicate. Communication is, of course, also the writer’s key objective, whether one is writing a book or an email message. The same degree of diligence is not required for one as for another, but demonstrating some level of effort to clearly convey one’s message, regardless of the message, is one’s primary duty as a writer.
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