How Does Grammar Impact Your Credibility

You might consider this actual headline from a well-known website,

“Mountain lion found in tree tagged by researchers”.

Why would researchers need to tag a tree?  Have trees recently started migrating? Did those researchers tag that tree with a GPS tracker?  Since the researchers were dealing with a tree, did they really think it was going somewhere far enough and fast enough that it needed a GPS tracker?

Oh, it was not the tree researchers tagged, it was the mountain lion?  Therefore, the headline should have read, “Researchers find tagged mountain lion in a tree”.  This is a common mistake – until it gets published, and then it becomes a serious error – an error for which editors have been fired.  With its grammar and syntax, would you report have gotten you fired?

While this is not the place to suggest solutions, understand that a client could interpret a hard-to-read appraisal report as misleading.  If the state appraisal board were to agree, then that is a violation of SR2-1(a).

Consider this sentence: “the subject is in a good location”.  It makes no sense, since nobody has a clue what the term “…good location…” means.  Rather, it would make sense to say, “…the subject is in a neighborhood popular with buyers.  The reasons for this popularity include…” and here you’d list the reasons it is popular with buyers.

It would be professional suicide to include in a report a sentence such as, “…the subject is in a high crime area…” even if you could prove that.  The reason is that merely being in a high crime area, does not, in-and-of-itself, affect value.  How so? If the comps come from the same neighborhood, that factor is already baked into the sales prices, so there is no need to adjust for it.  Note that the city of Houston has a very high murder rate (over twice that of the US has a whole).  Yet, Houston is one of the fastest growing cities in the US.

If an appraiser mangles a sentence, such as somebody mangled the above sentence, s/he needs the help of an editor, proofreader, or mentor.  Mistakes such as this one are easy to make. They are also easy to catch and correct before the report goes out. If you need a second set of eyes on a report, there are coaches and mentors (and editors) out there to help you.  That help won’t come free, but education rarely does.

7 Comments on “How Does Grammar Impact Your Credibility”

  1. So true! What does the sentence really mean to say? Sometimes it is wise to have a third party read what you wrote before it is shipped out. I’m guilty of the “good location” phrase. George Carlin pointed out many of the common phrases that do not mean what was intended. “I’m going to take a leak when I really do not want to take it. I’d rather leave it”

  2. “Mountain lion found in tree tagged by researchers”.

    I think:
    Researchers have tagged a mountain lion that was found in a tree. or
    Mountain lion found in tree had previously been tagged by researchers.

    So yes, the original statement is not clear and is therefore open to several different interpretations.
    I must admit I find myself writing comments in a brief, almost bullet point style sometimes in an effort to get it all into the
    limited space. I’m not a huge fan of telling the reader to go look at the addendum if it can be avoided.

    On that note, I was trained in a shop of 25 appraisers and they had all the boiler plate stuff first, then the actual specific comments at the end which always seemed a bit odd to me. Wells Fargo did a little training session at one of the Valuation Expo’s and asked that we please start the addendum with KEY POINTS: then the boiler plate. That made sense to me so I switched but my software still adds any carry over comments to the end of the addendum and transferring it to the top should at least be an option. One could easily make the case that “hiding” key comments at the end of a long boring boiler plate addendum is the opposite of what we are supposed to do. A lawyer could have a field day with that one.

  3. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know. Groucho Marx …

  4. Appraisal Institute instructor Nelson Bowes told us, “A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.”

  5. I especially like the comment from Realtors that says “Seller will pay 3% of closing costs on behalf of the buyers.” I don’t know how many real estate agents I have called out on this, and actually had one agent say that everyone knew what she meant. When I explained that a savvy seller might hold her to that which is written in the contract, and her buyer may very well expect her to make up the difference out of her commission, she changed her mind, and agreed that it should have said “Seller will pay 3% of the Sale Price towards buyer’s closing costs.” Huge difference.

  6. “With its grammar and syntax, would you report have gotten you fired?” – Apparently not.

    I agree that proper grammer and a well-written report are important in our industry. I’ve seen far too many appraisals with incomplete sentences or poorly written paragraphs. If a report is riddled with grammatical errors, I believe it calls into question the validity of the report and gives the appraiser a black eye. If the appraiser cannot write in complete sentences, can he or she do an accurate job of describing the property and giving it a market value?

  7. There’s a very interesting tool out there called Grammarly. You can use its basic functions for free or if you write as much as I do, a paid subscription makes more sense. They point out all the grammatical errors in your sentences and offer suggestions on how to fix them. And it spell checks as you go. The folks at Grammarly even send you an email once a week, letting you know where you made the most mistakes and where you’ve made the most improvements.

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