should I mention my new coworker’s sloppy writing?

A reader writes:

I recently started a new position about 2 weeks ago.  During my time at my new position, I’ve noticed that I have a particular colleague who consistently has grammatical errors in her emails (that are sent to clients and CC’ed to our managers as well as myself).

Errors include such things as: “Please be here at this time: 9:90am” and “…[You] will be assessed and evaluated by our one of our many expert clincians’.”  (No, that extra ‘ or “our” was not a mistake on my part.)

I’m just wondering how I can bring this to her attention without being rude or “in-her-face,” or if this is a matter I should just leave alone?  (I don’t want this to reflect poorly on the compny I work for.)

In an ideal world, you could point out something helpful like this and have it be taken exactly in the spirit in which you intend it.

In the real world, not so much.

You’ve only been there two weeks, and you’re still proving yourself, learning the company’s culture, and figuring out how things are done there. And you’re not her manager. Rightly or wrongly, you’d probably come across as overly pushy if you criticized her writing or attention to detail two weeks in.

Plus, since managers are being cc’d, they’re aware of the problem, and they’re either addressing it or don’t care. (They should care — they really, really should care — but not everyone does.)

Six months from now, you’ll have a better feel for whether this is worth raising to someone and, if so, how. But again, managers apparently know.

(And I debated whether or not to raise this because I don’t want it to sound mean, but did you realize that “clinicians” and “company” are misspelled in your email above? Emails to websites are different than emails to customers, of course, and this doesn’t excuse your coworker’s lack of proofreading … but it’s a good reminder that lots of people imperfectly proofread their own writing.)

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Weak question and the advice seems to drag on when it’s so much more appropriate to just say “no”.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I like to explain my reasoning. “No” gives her an answer, but no understanding of why!

      But fine, fine, I’ve posted another question to make you happy.

  2. Shayna*

    I think the misspelling of clinicians was as part of a quotation from the coworker. And maybe I was reading too far into it, but I thought the “compny” misspelling was a little joke.

  3. Reader*

    This was my question. And, yes, I did typo the word company. I don’t mind that you pointed it out. :) Unfortunately, the word “clincians” was originally my coworker’s mistake. I copy/pasted her text and just put “s around it.

    The point here isn’t that it’s a typo, but a consistent lack of editing at all on her part (or just lack of care). This is a “template” she uses to send to all our clients while she just changes the client’s name, date and time, and clinician (whom the client will be seeing).

    So, these are the SAME glaring mistakes that lie in the body of the copy/pasted email.

    Meanwhile, it may be a weak question, but this honestly bothered me and I waffled on what to do. This is a girl who has been with the company for 6 years (or so I found out at our last departmental meeting), but just copies and pastes the same mistakes over and over and over and over. And it bugs me because no one points it out to her, and these emails are going out to intelligent clients who may see her email and think, “Really?” So, in defense of the company, I want to just tell her or fix it for her if she’s going to copy/paste the same template all the time.

    But, I do agree that it’s best I leave it alone. Thank you for replying to my question! I appreciate it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It wasn’t a weak question! I actually really thought it was interesting, because I would be sooooo bothered by this if I were in your shoes. It would drive me crazy.

      And now knowing that these are her templates? Agggh, that’s even more frustrating.

      So I sympathize, completely.

      Maybe in a few months you can say to her, “hey, did you realize that your template for X has a typo in it?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Actually, you said these aren’t just typos, so that won’t work. So maybe “hey, did you realize your template has some mistakes in it? want me to fix it up for you?”

        But it’ll depend on what you learn about how she takes input.

        1. Reader*

          Hah. My first thought was: Even if I correct the actual template for her, she might have a hard time when she has to change the Time section (i.e., 9:90am).

          But, yeah, I think that’s a good course to take with her. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. As I get to know her better, hopefully I can pull it off as me just trying to be friendly/helpful.

          1. Dan Ruiz*

            I would be annoyed to the point of banging my head on my monitor by this. So I completely understand your dilemma. However, if and when you decide to bring it up with your coworker, make sure your motives are right.

            Do it ONLY because you want to be “friendly/helpful” and not because she’s driving you crazy. Don’t think you can fool her; your true feelings will probably show through and she’ll react badly.

            Good luck,
            Dan

          2. Jamie*

            I love this – and am going to schedule all of my meetings for 9:90 from now on. There’s no prep work involved for meetings held at fictional times, right?

      2. anon*

        I can’t believe people never corrected her ‘template’ yet. How do the people who receive the email even comprehend ‘9:90 am’? Do they come at 10:30 am? I’d think in the past couple of years, someone would have called her up and asked, “When is 9:90 am in your world?” Surely she has been corrected before? Or else those people would never have come for their assessment. Wonder why she hasn’t changed it given that obvious consequence.

        Anyway, why wait for months before correcting her? Just go up to her and say “Hey, I just saw that email you sent and I think you mentioned something about a time ‘9:90 am’ in those emails.. did you mean to say 9:00am? I just wanted to let you know in case you want to change it.” If she replies in the positive, continue with the other corrections. The top priority is for her to correct the time. Say it innocently and in a nonjudgemental way. Then after you correct her, change the subject quick and ask how her weekend was.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You know, you’re right that the 9:90 thing is so glaringly problematic that I could see mentioning that — but I wouldn’t go on to address the other stuff, no matter how tempting it would be.

          My caveat here: As a manager myself, I’d TOTALLY want my employees pointing ALL of this stuff out. But as far as the advice that’s in your best interest as a new employee just getting settled into a new job? I think you’re better off leaving it to her managers for now.

          1. Brenda*

            Thank you for this. I have the same dilemma right now. But in my case, it’s my wonderful co-worker insisting on using “your welcome” when she means, “you’re welcome.” Am I being unnecessarily pedantic? Is it fashionable in law firms to make this error on purpose these days? How can I tell her in a way she will understand my motives are only to help her, not correct her for the sake of correcting her? Thoughts? I would really appreciate your response in my e-mail inbox at bcronenb@yahoo.com. Thanks a million!

    2. Julie*

      It was a good question. I think I’d be just as miffed as you if this was one of my co-workers. I’m glad Alison answered it.

  4. Julie*

    Wow. This speaks to me, because I had this particular lesson driven home to me when I was 16. I spent one day working in my grandfather’s office, taking dictation, writing letters, etc. I thought I was *so* good (as every 16-year-old invariably does). I showed him the letter he’d dictated to me. He gave it back to me and said, “There are spelling and grammar mistakes in here. If you send this out, not only do YOU look unprofessional, but you make my entire office look unprofessional. Go back and fix it.” And I did. And I’ve tried extremely hard since then to proofread *everything,* even if it’s just a comment on a website. (Typos still slip through, but hopefully fewer of them than otherwise.)

    I make allowances for people whose mother tongue is not English. Living in Quebec, I deal with a lot of native-French speakers who sometimes have trouble in English. I understand that writing correctly in a second language is extremely difficult. (For just this reason, I generally refuse to write correspondence in French. I’m okay for sending instant messages to my friends, but I’m not up to professional standards.)

    But for someone whose first language is English, and on a template no less, there’s no excuse. At least, that’s my view.

    1. A person*

      “” (as every 16-year-old invariably does).””

      I know this is not directly on topic, but I feel the feed to call it out. Please don’t be ageist! Sometimes 16-year-olds are more mature than 40-year-olds.

      1. Dawn*

        It doesn’t sound ageist to me at all. It’s just a statement that as teenagers, most of us thought we knew it all, myself included! It took getting out into the real world to realize that I had a few things to learn.

        Oh, and “I feel the feed to call it out.” I’m guessing “feed” should be “need.”

      2. Julie*

        As Dawn said, this wasn’t intended to be ageist, nor even a comment on maturity. (You get no argument from me that some 16-year-olds are more mature than some 40-year-olds.) It was merely a reflection that when I was 16, I thought I was producing exceptionally good work, as did most of my friends, and it took exposure to the “real world” to realize that we had a LOT of learning to do.

  5. Anonymous*

    Wow. This way over-analyzed. Email her. “Hey, you’ve got some typos in there.” See? Was that so hard. Geesh. No wonder white collar workers are so stressed. It’s not the work, it’s that offices are full of passive-aggressive, political, back-stabbing, whining control freaks.

    1. Reader*

      LOL! I do agree that it’s over-analyzed. Unfortunately, I react this way because I can’t just say, “Hey, you’ve got some typos in there,” without worrying that this girl may respond with wounded pride: “WTF. Who is this upstart?” Especially when I’m new to the company, and (honestly) managers should be the one pointing this out.

      It’s also a matter of office politics. I don’t know if she’s in good graces with the managers, or whomever, and I don’t know how she may take this. If she takes it extremely defensively (i.e., “Why is this noob telling me what to do?” even if she is so obviously at fault), she may use this as a point to dislike me and I could forever be on her “bad side.” (I live in Miami; a person’s pride here is typically the size of the nation.)

      At this point, I’m not sure being on her “bad side” is worth pointing this out. I’m new to the company; my presence with the company is still under observance (I would assume); and I have no merit with them aside from what’s on my resume and what I’ve done in the past 2 weeks. So, that’s why I hesitate to point it out, and that’s why I ask.

      It would be cool beans if I could just point it out, and know that she’ll understand that I mean it with good intent. But, I don’t know that for sure.

      1. Anonymous*

        I hear what you’re saying. But it’s the fact that office BS causes anyone to hesitate about saying/doing something so benign…. office politics, bruised egos. Dang. It’s ridiculous. Sometimes I want to scream, “PUT YOUR BIG GIRL PANTIES ON, BOYS AND GIRLS! Work is for work. Not hand-holding, coddling, tip-toeing, or any other time-sucking activities. Someone is going to tell you that you suck, probably more than once, and you probably do. Get over it. Pick up your fragile ego and move on. Get your work done and we’ll all get along just fine here.”

        Sometimes I really hate people.

  6. Cassie*

    Ooh, no-win situation. At least with the 9:90am, you could feign ignorance and ask the coworker to clarify the time of the meeting. But for the other misspellings, it would be more difficult to “fix”.

    We had an assistant who had the wrong office room number on her email signature (she just copied the standard signature from the payroll person). I was apparently the only one that noticed but I didn’t know *how* to tell her, so I didn’t.

    Well, the person who replaced that assistant also had the wrong office number on her email signature (I think she just copied from the previous assistant). This time around, I could have told the new assistant (since she was new) but again, felt too awkward to bring it up. So I mentioned it to our HR lady and she talked to the new assistant. (Note, the HR lady and I are friends – from before she became HR lady – so I wasn’t telling HR lady as some sort of “escalation” deal. I just figured she would be in a better position to tell the new assistant).

    The irony is, later on, I was looking at an email from our HR lady and I noticed she had an error in her signature! I pointed it out to her and she just waved me off (she still didn’t correct it).

    If it were me, as awkward as it may be, I would want someone to point out my mistakes (or problems). How else can I improve? (I do look over my own work with a critical eye, but I can’t catch everything).

  7. OmarF*

    The difficulty when pointing out problems in the writing of others is that you leave yourself open to criticism. Since the title set me in editor mode, my first impression of this question was the duplication in the first sentence. Include “recently” or “about 2 weeks ago” but not both! Challenging another person’s errors will surely get a bunch of people criticizing yours.

    I feel fortunate that I have co-workers I can bounce stuff to for proof-reading. They come to me as well. Maybe try that approach to establish some trust.

  8. SME*

    Things like that make me crazy as well, so I sympathize. Thinking long-term, you could set yourself up as the unofficial office proofer. Once my co-workers realized that I’m often good at catching errors like that, they started running e-mails and new templates by me. At this point, it’s just part of my job. (Which also comes with lots of howling laughter and good-natured ribbing when I make a mistake!) The way that happened for me was that I never looked at it as an issue, and was never judgmental. If I saw a template with an error, I’d just pipe up with a, “Hey, I just caught an error that I thought you’d want fixed – here’s a revision!” I’ve always kept it super cheerful and upbeat, and completely lacking in condemnation, and even in an office and industry with massive turnover, my many co-workers have been relieved to have a backup person to read things for them.

    I hope that’s some kind of help! (And I await all the helpful notes about errors in my post.) ;)

  9. Long Time Admin*

    I work in an architectural/engineering firm, and all of our work goes through quality check processes. We always get our work back “bloody”, i.e., full of red marks. Almost nothing goes out the door without several revisions and corrections. Some of the checkers are serious control freaks who mark up every comma, semi-colon, and period, but we need to have professional documents and paperwork for our clients. That means not just accurate content, but top quality looking as well.

    I have a lot of problems with the decline of basic written English skills, especially for business. For several years, I belonged to a professional association for administrative assistants, secretaries and other office professionals, and I was constantly appalled at the errors in *their* writings. How could they not know better?

    Reader’s managers should have caught these errors when they first occurred, and had them corrected at that time. She could address the time issue (9:90 a.m. – I love it!) and perhaps down the road get that template corrected. It does say something about the company, however. And not something good.

  10. Liz in a library*

    My husband once had a colleague who constantly typed $.02 as .02¢ and truly did not understand the different (despite it being explained multiple times).

    She created the pricing guide for the small business they worked for, so this was truly an issue. He tried several nice ways, and a couple more direct ways to get her to change it…no luck at all. They are still charging a tenth of a cent for photocopies…

    No advice, just sympathy. Good luck!

    1. Anonymous*

      Wouldn’t they actually be charging two tenths of a cent for photo copies? ;)

      1. CallMeAl*

        You guys just gotta jump ugly on someone in grammar/spelling related posts.

        I love it. I never make mistaks!

  11. Anonymous*

    Poor emails are a pet peeve of mine, too. I used to work with a woman whose internal emails were so atrocious that the were hardly readable.

    These days, I hate Outlook’s spell checker. I love the one Word and the web browsers have where they just underline what they think are misspellings. But Outlook? Out look has to make you do an old school spell check, and for every word I truly do misspell, it shows me 15-20 that it doesn’t recognize (abbreviations, acronyms, etc.) Given that I’m a naturally good speller, Outlook’s spell check is an absolute total waste of my time. The sucky thing is, I *do* misspell words, and by not running the spell check, some errors occasionally slip through.

    1. Julie*

      I don’t use Outlook much, but is it possible to “teach” it words, the way you can in Microsoft Word? That way, it won’t bother you for the acronymns and abbreviations that you use often.

      1. Jamie*

        You can add words to the dictionary – I do it all the time for company/industry specific jargon, acronyms, etc.

        It doesn’t even take any time, as it’s just as easy to click “Add” as “Ignore” and then it doesn’t come up again.

        You just have to make sure they are spelled correctly before hitting add :).

    2. CallMeAl*

      I’m not sure what version of Outlook you are using, but I’m using 2003 and it uses Word as the editor. It also checks spelling as you go.

      To turn on Word as your editor, pick Tools, Options, Mail Format, and click the box called “Use Microsoft Office Word to edit e-mail messages.”

      To auto-spell check, pick Tools, Spell and Grammar, Options, and click the box called “Check spelling as you type.”

  12. Erica B*

    It would bug me too, and I understand where the OP is coming from in terms of whether or not to address the typos. I am a good speller myself, but have a bad habit of not spell checking, as my typos can get pretty bad when I type fast- usually it’s capitalizing that I get wrong as I can’t seem to time my pinky to hit shift when I need it too! lol.

    But I digress. Any official emails or things I type, I check it before I send it, and because I don’t want to look like a fool, I often have other people proof read my draft.

  13. Anonymous*

    I am fairly new to a job as well. I have fixed some things like this that were going on at my location with a combo of feigned idiocy (I’m worried that I’ll be to old to play that soon) and look at this shiny tech I can implement for you. If these are templates and she’s e-mailing them, set her up with a fancy e-mail merge that would hopefully pull from a correct spreadsheet. If you offer to set this up on her computer you can do so with correct spelling and such. If it really bugs you this can be a very handy way to do it (and make things at the office more efficient) and not make any enemies, and maybe even make a friend.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is a good idea. I’d have no idea how to set it up with a fancy spreadsheet merge, but another option is just templates within her email program. In Mac’s Mail program, you can set up messages that you send frequently as “signatures” and then just choose the right signature from their drop down menu within the message.

  14. Jamie*

    Whatever you do – don’t complain to IT.

    True story – I had someone submit a help ticket to IT (that’s me) because of spelling/grammar issues in a co-workers emails. The logic was that he was using his computer to send them and disregarding the spell check – which made it an IT problem.

    I didn’t take them up on their suggestion that IT proof every email for content before allowing them through the server – because my magic wand was in the shop at the time and my desire to micromanage other people is non-existent.

    Seriously though – this would drive me crazy – but I wouldn’t say anything. If the managers are cced on this and it is allowed to continue there’s probably a reason – either politics or bad management (or both) and I wouldn’t touch it.

    I would think less of the managers allowing this though – what are they thinking?

  15. Hannah*

    I work on a team of engineers, so clients see our products, but we don’t communicate with them directly. I take the view that as long as the intention of an *internal* communication is clear, there’s no reason to be pedantic about poor grammar or typos. I have been assigned to mentor a new coworker who is extremely preoccupied with correct grammar. He agonizes over emails before sending them, and he can’t stop himself from pointing out badly constructed sentences, even if there’s no ambiguity about what the writer meant. Make sure you’re not that guy!

    I think if your coworker’s job is to prepare client facing communication, it’s courteous to point out their errors, and unless they sense you’re getting some sort of weird self congratulatory rush out of it, there’s no reason they would react badly. If you’re worried about people’s grammar just because you think things should be right all the time, let it go. It’s not always time well spent to worry about formality.

    1. Reader*

      I definitely agree with you. My boss has a general lack of care when it comes to grammar, and this isn’t something that bothers me because I have only seen internal correspondances from him. Therefore, it just seems as though he’s less formal with us.

      As you said, it’s when these emails are being directed to clients that the extra effort should be taken to ensure that they’re, at the very least, comprehensible.

      :)

  16. Reader*

    I LOLed at your true story. That is famous. I don’t understand that person’s logic, but it made me laugh.

    The managers don’t require us (my colleague and I have essentially the same job description) to send any of them initial copies of our letters for correction. So, if your grammar or spelling sucks, then poo on you. It probably stems from the fact that our Big Boss sends emails all the time (internally) like so: “good job keep up the good work don’t forget to stay under 40 hrs”

    (Ok, so perhaps it isn’t as bad as that, but there’s little capitalization, a general lack of proper punctuation, and no sense of structure to BB’s emails.)

  17. Dianamh*

    It’s a sad fact that once you have a template you rarely (if ever) go back and read it. It sounds like she is simply sending out the “form” letter without reading it, only changing the pertinent data. If it is a template on a shared drive, you can find it and fix it, otherwise you’ll need to gauge if the co-worker is receptive or would be offended.

  18. Former Editor*

    Seriously? This is not that big of a deal. I’d totally approach the next person I see about it. All you have to do is say something like… “I know I’m new, but sometimes it helps to have a fresh pair of eyes on something you look at all the time. I noticed a couple of mistakes in one of our templates; would you like me to show them to you?” If your office can’t handle that, find a new job!

  19. Emma*

    Remember, if you’re going to point out someone’s mistakes, you’d better be sure you almost never make any!

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use “utilize” or the word “myself” as you did. Never write “like myself” or “as well as myself”. Use “me”.

  20. Perpetual Interviewer*

    @Anonymous
    If work is for work, why are you blogging during the work day?! (Although I do agree with you and I shoudn’t be blogging during the work day haha).

    I personally think grammar and spelling and such are major issues when clients are involved – I used to have a boss that would use the term “irregardless” ALL the time in client meetings… I was so nervous to tell him that “irregardless” is not a word, but when I finally did – we just laughed about it and he started using “regardless” and stopped looking like such a moron in meetings!

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