The ability to write convincingly and concisely is incredibly important to your ability to move up in an agency. One of the easiest ways to sink your Federal career is to not take the time to proof read your work.
An employee once told me that he was pursuing a masters degree. He described his frustration with his professor due to low marks for spelling and grammar. He insisted his grade should be dependent on the quality of his research and the point he’d been trying to get across. I related the story of turning in a nearly-final draft of my dissertation to my advisor. He returned it the next day with a misspelled word circled on the first page. He said, “If the reader can’t count on you to get the spelling right in the first page, how can they trust that you took the time to do your analysis correctly?”
That was a turning point in my writing. Perhaps it was a bit harsh, but it’s a conversation I don’t think enough people have.
Nearly daily, I receive emails littered with misspellings, forgotten words, and absent punctuation. As a function of how many emails we write each day, it’s inevitable that we’ll have some of these errors. Assuming that it’s an infrequent mistake, most people will overlook it. Unfortunately there are some who do not take the time to review their work – regardless of the importance of the communication. Failing to pay attention to these small details will ultimately sink a Federal career.
I was once presented with a concept paper that could be an extreme cultural shift to how we do business. In our early discussions, I supported the idea and asked for a write up. Ultimately, the write up would be used to begin socializing it with our leadership. Since it was a new idea, I expected a number of iterations as we tightened and strengthened our case. After two weeks, the final draft was not only poorly researched, it was poorly written. And worst of all it was riddled with spelling errors.
This could have seen this as an opportunity for development. Maybe this person just didn’t have experience writing this kind of a document. Perhaps the employee hadn’t been asked to research something before. Unfortunately, this employee had repeatedly been reminded to be careful with spelling and grammar. Suggestions to have peers review seem to go unheeded. Given the importance this concept paper held…I could only assume that it was less a matter of inability and more a matter of lack of desire. Given the timeline for implementation and the work it would take to refine the concept we went in another direction.
I could be wrong. It could be that I gave up too soon. But, I’m not alone in seeing chronic spelling issues as a sign that the quality of work is equally sloppy.
I urge you. Don’t let something as simple as spelling prevent you from being as influential as you could be in your agency. You may not be remembered for your correct spelling – but you will absolutely be remembered for chronic misspellings.
Don’t feel comfortable with your own skill to get it right? Ask a trust coworker or friend for a review before submitting it. Trust me, it’s worth the time to further your Federal career.