Spelling, a problem limited to the school sphere?
The question of spelling has for a long time remained exclusively a matter of the educational system alone, with the ministry setting objectives to be achieved per cycle and periodically evaluating the level of students.
Several studies agree on the regular and consistent decline in the level of students in spelling since the mid-1980s: in 2015, students make an average of 17.8 errors against 10.6 in 1987 to the same dictation .
In a context of intensification of writing at work, the integration into organizations of young graduates at a lower spelling level than their elders is also becoming a management issue for organizations today.
As proof, they are now assessing editorial skills as the most important skills to master: a US study of more than 14 million job offers concluded that editorial skills were among the skills most sought after by employers .
And yet, despite this plebiscite, organizations are very dissatisfied with the actual level of young graduates in terms of written communication skills.
Spelling, a cost for organizations
Editorial and especially orthographic deficiencies are cost-related, in terms of image, perceived quality and customers’ purchasing intentions in particular. In this regard, the National Commission on Writing (2004) has estimated that companies spend more than $ 3 billion annually on remedying the written deficiencies of US employees.
In France, the team of the ISEOR ( Institute of Socio-Economics of Enterprises and Organizations ) concluded that the lack of management in organizations of impairments in written language (specifically the management of illiteracy) was a source of hidden costs, foremost among which were the additional costs associated with quality defects, the additional costs associated with the shift in the management of staff taking over the revision of a document drafted by a subordinate, or the non-compliance with creation of potential linked to the impossibility of developing new activities.
Other studies have also shown the consequences of faults on websites in terms of deterioration in the perceived quality of Internet users, or even in terms of decreased buying intentions.
Although it has been shown that editorial and especially orthographic deficiencies represent a management problem, and in spite of an important mediatization of this question, no scientific study had measured in France the perceptions and behavior of recruiters in the field. regard to hiring candidates with spelling deficiencies.
However, it is during the application study phase that employers are able to make an initial assessment of the level of proficiency in spelling. While several APEC surveys or recruitment firms have indicated that employers report that they penalize mistakes, the latter have methodological limitations, making it necessary to conduct a study providing guarantees in terms of validity.
Spelling, a cost for job applicants?
An experimental study in management sciences was conducted recently to understand the effects of spelling mistakes in the broad sense (lexical, grammatical and typographical errors, called typos or keyboard errors) on the perceptions of recruiters but also on their preselection behavior .
536 recruiters were screened for candidates: several applications for a commercial position, differing on the level of experience of the candidates, the number and type of faults contained, were proposed to them. They were asked to write down each one and then make a pre-selection decision (rejection or interview). In addition, the verbal protocols method was mobilized to analyze the speech of the recruiters during their task of studying the files. This technique required respondents to express their thoughts aloud simultaneously with the execution of an experimental task. These verbalizations were then transcribed for a content analysis. This method is particularly suited to understanding the decision-making process of recruiters.
Spelling mistakes count …
The analysis of the verbal restitutions indicates that the faults generate strong attributions from the recruiters in terms of intelligence of the candidate, of professional competences but also in terms of well-being …
Recruiters, for example, make it more difficult for resume writers with faults to have a lack of intelligence (only when they read CVs containing spelling errors) and also lack of professionalism. But it is above all the attributions in the field of “savoir-être” (lack of politeness and correctness) which dominate in the speech of the recruiters led to study these candidacy files. Lack of rigor, laxity, lightness and negligence are perceptions widely shared by a significant proportion of them.
Also emerges from this analysis of the recruiters’ discourse the cultural dimension of the orthographic competence: for the recruiters, to know how to write without mistakes does not necessarily come from the school, but rather from the socio-economic context inferred from the candidate (notably the family, the social environment).
The statistical analysis of the recruiters’ decisions also makes it possible to draw several conclusions: the presence of faults (whatever their nature) has an impact on the rejection rate, and this with equal experience. The chances of a file containing spelling errors and significant professional experience being rejected are 3.1 higher than the chances of rejection of a file without mistakes, with the same professional experience. An experienced application with spelling errors has a rejection rate comparable to that of an inexperienced but fault-free application, thus negating the strengths of an experienced application.
… but all faults are not equal
The results of the study also highlight a differentiated judgment of recruiters according to the type of mistakes: typing errors (forgetting or reversing letters) are judged less severely than misspellings in terms of rejection. It is rather their accumulation that causes rejection.
On the other hand, concerning the spelling errors (lexical and grammatical), the number of faults (5 or 10) does not affect the rejecting behavior of the recruiters. This means that it is not so much the number of faults as the presence and the type of mistakes that explain the rejection of the file: there would be no “threshold of tolerance” for lexical and grammatical spelling errors when they are identified.
Statistical and discourse analysis thus reveal the gravity of the grammatical misspelling considered as a “fault against thought”, corroborating the analysis of the speech of the recruiters, associating more the typo with a lack of proofreading but never to a lack of intelligence. A survey conducted in February 2015 also confirms that it is the grammar mistakes that shock the most French (they would be for example 47% to be faced with a bad choice of auxiliary with the past participle). To explain the greater severity of recruiters in the face of lexical and grammatical spelling errors, it is possible to advance the explanation according to which typos, shells or typos would be considered as “small mistakes”, while the fault supreme, serious,
In other words, the very first mistakes of conjugation, agreement or lexicon can lead to rejection … whereas in terms of typos it is more their accumulation that would generate the elimination of a candidate.
Spelling competence, much more than a technical skill
Beyond the trivial aspect of these results, this study provides a proof that the faults are indeed a “barrier to entry” for candidates for employment, more so with regard to the spelling errors that for typographical errors.
The spelling mistake is therefore meaningful for a recruiter: it is the breeding ground for strong attributions, mainly in terms of well-being. The fault is not a mere technical skill, basic knowledge, but an ability to conform to a standard.
Thus, candidates writing their CV with faults would violate an implicit social norm of spelling: an employee who commits mistakes can not therefore be situated in front of his addressee, would be unable to adapt the linguistic quality to the interaction. In the end, therefore, the fault would reflect conduct detrimental to the organization rather than an insufficient mastery of linguistic or technical competence.
In conclusion, it is questionable whether the gradual integration of graduates with diminished spelling skills sounds the death knell of the era of orthographically impeccable professional writing. In a context of heavy media coverage of the issue and increasing the use of professional writing, resistance is she getting started, as evidenced by the proliferation of initiatives in companies , within organizations training and the development of certifications with purely orthographic or editorial skills (Voltaire Certificate, Certificate in Writing Skills)?
Finally, will orthographic competence, once equated with one academic prerequisite among many others, eventually become a highly distinctive skill in the coming years, so rare will it become among candidates?
Author Bio: Christelle Martin Lacroux is a Lecturer in Management Sciences- CERAG-IUT2 Laboratory at the University Grenoble Alpes