The other day I had lunch with an old friend at a restaurant. We both ordered tea, and our tea came in ceramic teapots. My friend's teapot had a noticeable chip on its lid. She commented to me, "They should not be using a chipped teapot!" I agreed.
For the rest of the meal, we talked happily, but we were on our guard. We checked the silverware to be sure it was clean. We examined the lettuce to make sure it was fresh. We looked at each forkful of salad before putting it in our mouths.
The chip in the teacup lowered our confidence in the restaurant and in the quality of our meal.
That true story was my answer to a question asked in a business writing class I led today: Does correct punctuation really matter?
Yes, correct punctuation matters. Correct grammar and usage matter. Sentence structures must be solid. Spelling counts.
If you let errors or inconsistencies creep into your communications, you will chip away at readers' confidence in your messages--just the way the chipped teapot eroded our confidence in the restaurant and the meal. Your readers may begin to doubt your conclusions or your data. They may reply with questions rather than action or approval.
Texts to a friend or quick back-and-forth emails to a coworker do not need to be flawless (unless they may be forwarded to people whose confidence you need to win). But when you have to meet readers' high expectations, the details matter.
Don't chip away at your credibility. It is hard to re-establish. My friend and I will not return to that restaurant.
Do you agree that the fine details matter?