Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
[This podcast was originally published February 23, 2006. -Leo]
I sometimes wonder at how I got here. Not in the biological sense, I mean the long strange trip that ended up here with websites like Ask Leo! and podcasts such as this one.
And if I had to do it all over again, what one thing would I change?
I would have paid more attention in English class. Heck, I would have taken more English, grammar and writing classes.
The bottom line is that regardless of your profession, writing - especially in this internet-enabled age - is becoming more and more critical. The ability to express yourself clearly and even entertainingly is often a key differentiator between being good at a job and being great at it.
I hated writing in school - absolutely hated it. It wasn't until I started working a real job that I discovered that not only could I write relatively well (though I couldn't spell to save my life - I still can't), I actually kinda sorta enjoyed it.
What I hated in school wasn't writing. It was writing about things I knew nothing about and wasn't interested in. Once I got past that words started to, well, to trickle out. I'm certainly not about to write the next great American novel, but write I do.
I bring this up because of the number of people who write to me who, to put it bluntly, can't. They fall into two camps: non-native speakers for whom English is a second language, and those who've grown up speaking English but still couldn't write their way out of a paper bag. While I have a lot of sympathy for the first group (technically, English is my second language too), I have very little for the second.
Sad as it is, both groups are at a severe disadvantage. It may not be fair, it may not be politically correct, but the practical reality of the internet is that speaking and writing English well matters.
There used to be a commercial for some vocabulary product that began "People judge you by the words you use ...". It's not fair, but it's very, very true. You may be the smartest, coolest, most wonderful and professional person on the planet, but if your email and your internet posts and your other writings sound like a spoiled teenager who didn't finish high school, don't be surprised if that's exactly how you're treated.
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