Writing skills can lead to professional success: study

A recent study found that people with fewer language errors on their LinkedIn profiles tend to reach higher positions.


Just because everyone else is writing in text lingo doesn’t mean you should ditch those style guides just yet—your career might depend on proper writing.

A recent analysis of LinkedIn profiles found that people with fewer language errors on profiles reached higher positions.

“This data set clearly supports the hypothesis that good grammar is a predictor of professional success,” according to Brad Hoover, CEO of Grammarly, which conducted the study.

Hoover’s analysis of his findings appeared in a Harvard Business Review blog.

Although the study relies on a small sample size, the findings suggest that good grammar and strong writing skills are more than just a luxury and are not simply attributes relevant to working in a communications department.

How the study worked

Grammarly, which makes software to check and teach grammar and writing skills, reviewed 100 LinkedIn profiles of native English speakers who work in the consumer packaged goods industry. The company looked for language errors in the profiles.

According to Hoover’s HBR post:

“Each professional had worked for no more than three employers over the first 10 years of his or her career. Half were promoted to director level or above within those 10 years, and the other half were not.”

The findings show that “professionals with fewer grammar errors in their profiles achieved higher positions.” According to Hoover, “Those who failed to progress to a director-level position within the first 10 years of their careers made 2.5 times as many grammar mistakes as their director-level colleagues.”

Also, people with fewer errors on their profiles had more promotions during the same time and experienced more frequent job changes.

“Those who remained at the same company for more than 10 years made 20 percent more grammar mistakes than those who held six jobs in the same period,” Hoover wrote.

This suggests people with better grasp of written language are ambitious when searching for jobs—or they simply edit their résumés more often, Hoover explained.

Hoover refers to these writing mistakes as grammatical errors, although that’s a catchall for an array of linguistic errors.

A spokesperson for Grammarly said, “Grammarly checked the Linkedin CVs in our recent report for more than 250 types of grammar errors (such as misplaced commas, run-on sentences, subject/verb agreement, and more).” According to Hoover, none of the profiles analyzed contained spelling mistakes.

An infographic from Grammarly helps explain these findings:

Really?

Hoover acknowledged in his HBR post that the sample size for the study was small.

“We do not know whether the relationship is causal or if good grammar merely correlates with career success,” he added. “It is also possible that professionals who were promoted to director level started their careers with poor grammar skills.”

Of course, Hoover doesn’t mention that Grammarly stands to benefit from proving that good grammar leads to career success.

Despite the study’s weaknesses, it underscores something that people working in corporate communications hold dear: Strong writing skills are never overrated.

Other evidence supports this notion. A 2011 article in The Washington Post, in which the author interviewed various business leaders and consultants, stressed the importance of writing skills.

“All of them [the business leaders interviewed] emphasized the criticality of good writing skills and said that writing is even more important than in previous years,” Joyce E.A. Russell, the Post‘s Career Coach columnist, wrote. “Professionals spend more time each day writing and are inundated with written communications (e-mails, reports, memos and such), so it is imperative that employees be able to write succinctly and write well.”

In a Harvard Business Review blog post from last summer, Kyle Wiens, CEO of online repair community iFixit, said he won’t hire people with lousy grammar. His company even administers a grammar test for potential hires.

“Good grammar makes good business sense—and not just when it comes to hiring writers,” he said.

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