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Taking Heat on Grammar

And you thought the comment section below political articles got heated?

You haven’t seen anything until you’ve read articles on grammar as I recently did in the online Harvard Business Review.  An article with the prickly title of “I Won’t Hire Anyone Who Uses Poor Grammar.  Here’s Whydrove grammar sticklers off their perches to pounce like cats on the unsuspecting text.

In the comment section, fights erupted over the grammar in the article itself.  Fangs came out over word choices.  Scratches were inflicted related to semi-colon usage.  Hairballs flew over split infinitives.

It was intense.  In fact, the last time I checked, the “comment-sult” count was 2,643 strong.

Many who were in the line of fire are surely licking their wounds.  Many more are likely preparing for their next grammar battle, readying themselves by lapping up rules on apostrophes in their Gregg Reference Manuals.

I look forward to the next missive melee too—not only for the entertainment, but also because of the passionate but varied views on grammar, punctuation, and usage in writing.

In that vein, I thought I’d find out how keen your eye is for grammar.  How strong are your opinions?

What would you swipe at in the announcement below?

A sales-training program is now being offered through the learning and development department.  This training addresses important skills in sales-call planning, prospect questioning and presentation skills.  And it’s instructor offers techniques for salespeople to recognize the different motivations of each type of buyer and ways to present benefits from the standpoint of the buyer.

The training format includes lecture, discussions, and exercises involving several role-play scenarios.  In preparation for the role-plays, each participant should choose a coworker to partner with.

All salespeople who attend will learn to improve key sales metrics; achieving quotas, increasing average deal size, improving customer retention rates, and reducing the sales cycle.

Scroll down for answers.  

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Issues highlighted:

A sales-training program is now being offered through the learning and development department.  This training addresses important skills in sales-call planning, prospect questioning and presentation skillsAnd it’s instructor offers techniques for salespeople to recognize the different motivations of each type of buyer and ways to present benefits from the standpoint of the buyer.

The training format includes lecture, discussions, and exercises involving several role-play scenarios.  In preparation for the role-plays, each participant should choose a coworker to partner with.

All salespeople who attend will learn to improve key sales metrics; achieving quotas, increasing average deal size, improving customer retention rates, and reducing the sales cycle.

Issues explained:

Capitalization of departments in organizations—Rule: Capitalize department names when referring to the actual name of the unit within the writer’s own organization.  Do not capitalize when referring to a department in another organization.

Correct: Accounting and Finance will provide the data during the meeting.

Correct: The accounting and finance department from Company XYZ provided the data during the meeting.

Correction for the announcement above: A sales-training program is now being offered through the Learning and Development Department.

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Comma in a series of items—Rule:  In business writing in the U.S., use a comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more items.

Correction for the announcement above:  This training addresses important skills in sales-call planning, prospect questioning, and presentation skills.

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Beginning a sentence with a conjunction – Verdict: Okay.  Although this practice can be informal, beginning a sentence with a conjunction is acceptable.  It can also be preferable at times to show a strong link between sentences.

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It’s versus Its – Rule:  Only use it’s when used as a contraction, meaning it isIts is a possessive pronoun, like yours or hers.

Correction from the announcement above: And its instructor offers . . .

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Ending a sentence in a preposition– Verdict: Okay.  Ending a sentence with a preposition is sometimes necessary for natural flow.  When making a decision on ending a sentence with a preposition, formality is an important consideration.  Consider the following examples:

In preparation for the role-plays, each participant should choose a coworker to partner with.  (Less formal)

In preparation for the role-plays, each participant should choose a coworker with whom to partner.  (Formal)

Although not always possible, a sentence may be revised to avoid the preposition altogether:

In preparation for the role-plays, each participant should choose a coworker as a partner.

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Colon vs. Semi-colon – Although there are many uses for colons and semi-colons, the usage of the semi-colon in the announcement is incorrect.  A colon should be used to introduce the list of items.  Semi-colons are primarily used to show a connection between two complete sentences.

Example with a semi-colon: The team wanted to implement the plan; management did not.

Example with a colon:  Accounting included many aspects in the summary: last year’s figures, this year’s budget, statements on variances, and initial projections for next year.