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Personality Traits of Grammar and Spelling Sticklers

Research suggests certain people judge others based on email typos and grammos.

Thanks to advances in technology, much of our professional communication occurs via email. Oftentimes, people who end up working together meet face-to-face after first communicating via email. Sometimes people who work together only ever interact in a virtual way, with email being the sole form of communication.

Because electronically mediated communication, such as email, is such an important means of communication, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that the messages you send are reasonably free of typos and grammatical errors (“grammos”). In fact, new research shows that certain people judge others based on how well their emails are written.

Brad Calkins ©
Source: Brad Calkins ©

In a 2016 study published in PLOS ONE, researchers out of the University of Michigan examined reader reactions to contrived email solicitations for a housemate that were either free of errors or contained either typos or grammos (but not both). Of note, a typo refers to a misspelled word, such as “teh” for “the”; whereas, the grammos that the researchers examined were homophonous grammatical errors, such as “to” for “too.”

In this study, 83 native English speakers were recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The experiment comprised 4 parts:

  1. a demographic/behavior questionnaire (including language attitude questions)
  2. a personality assessment (Big Five personality assessment)
  3. reading and evaluating 12 emails
  4. wrap-up questions

Each email was evaluated using comments based on the following 10 items (the Housemate Scale):

  • I think I would be friends with this person
  • The writer would be a good housemate
  • The writer seems a lot like me
  • The writer seems friendly
  • The writer seems more sophisticated than most of my friends
  • The writer seems less intelligent than most of my friends
  • The writer seems conscientious
  • The writer seems considerate
  • The writer seems likeable
  • The writer seems trustworthy
  • The email flowed smoothly

According to the researchers

More extroverted people were likely to overlook written errors that would cause introverted people to judge the person who makes such errors more negatively. Less agreeable people were more sensitive to grammos, while more conscientious and less open people were sensitive to typos.

Furthermore, variables like education, age, frequency of email use, and pleasure reading habits did not contribute to negative evaluations.

In an academic sense, this study is important because it begins to elucidate the relationship between personality traits and language processing. According to the researchers, in addition to the results of other research that also examines the effects of personality on language production and comprehension, scientists will now have a stronger basis from which to develop hypotheses concerning the effect of personality on mental processes used during language processing.

On a personal level, the results of this study suggest that it may be a good idea to watch your grammar and spelling when sending out email. You never know if the person on the receiving end will be inclined to judge you negatively based on the quality of your writing.