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I'm a software developer at a large company with thousands of employees across the globe. Lately, I've run into an issue where a lot of Defects and User Stories are written with extremely poor grammar and spelling, which makes their requirements hard to understand. Luckily, the company encourages communication between employees, so I can ask for all the clarification I could ever want, but I still find it frustrating. The poor writing increases the amount of time it takes to understand the requirements and increases the likelihood of a requirement being misunderstood, hence more time is being wasted with reworks. Additionally, it is unlikely for any managers to step in and make or enforce any sort of guidelines regarding this issue.

How can I, as a lowly developer, encourage people to write more clearly, with proper spelling and grammar, when writing these stories?

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    You're assuming they choose to use bad spelling and grammar? Some just don't speak English that well. Nov 14 '18 at 19:51
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    ... it's kinda funny that a question about how to deal with proper grammar/spelling has the word "propper" in the title.
    – Kevin
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:10
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    @Kevin It's almost as if Muphry's law was a real thing :) Nov 14 '18 at 20:14
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    Heh - I saw that you came in and ruined the fun ('Likely hood', missing commas, etc.) :-)
    – Kevin
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:15
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    Asking others to use 'proper grammar' will come across as classist and in 2018 even racist depending on context. Picking on people's spelling will get you labelled a pedant. If the requirement is actually unclear, you can't figure out what to program the computer to do, keep asking until it's clear. That's part of the job of a lowly developer. Usually it's unclear because they don't really know what they actually want and it will be a few rounds of rework to get it right no matter how much formal education in the English language was involved.
    – Affe
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:41
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Grammer and Spelling is not importent when trying to communicate msesage.

The sentence above might aggravate you - but it's not unclear what it means. I think you might need to step back and separate the two difference concerns in your question:

  1. Using proper grammar and spelling
  2. Conveying a message clearly

I wouldn't recommend trying to tackle the first. Honestly, a lot of people simply have bad grammar and bad spelling - and trying to improve it is a lot of work (grammar and spelling are hard - there's a reason they spend a decade or two on them during schools). If someone is 30+ years old, chances are their speech patterns are pretty engraved by that point. If you're just a 'lowly developer', they're not going to go through that much work just to make you happy.

The second? Absolutely! If someone writes something where the message is unclear, send an email/notice to them: "Hey, can you work on being more specific about the process you want me to work on? 'The Feedback Mechanism' could mean a couple different things, and I want to make sure I understand you correctly" And keep asking for clarifications when needed. Getting people to communicate more clearly definitely is a goal worth pursuing - and it's one where someone can improve a lot more readily.

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  • +1000. Bad grammar, spelling, punctuation drives me nuts. I can hardly read some of what is posted in a social media setting. In business communications Kevin is correct - strive for clarity - the rest will work itself out.
    – JazzmanJim
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:49
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    LOL, I was about to edit the post... but then I got your point :) (now I am stuck in an endless loop of wanting to edit this answer)
    – DarkCygnus
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:58
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As Kevin in his answers writes, you quite surely won't fix people's grammar and spelling. Also, as you write yourself, you have coworkers from all over the globe, so many of them will not be native speakers.

What you can fix or at least help improve is how the tasks, tickets or user stories are written. One example is providing a template with some 3 to 5 bullet points of information bits you need to be able to work on the issue. Imagine something along the lines of


  1. Describe the situation in which the issue occurs. What steps do you perform before it happens?
  2. Describe what happens.
  3. Describe what you would expect to happen.

You can just use it as a guideline for people to write better tasks. If doing all the asking people for clarification stuff does cost you a lot of time and efficiency, you might also consider getting management backup that allows you to outright reject or return tasks that do not follow certain standards in information they provide.

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    As an extra; ask people to provide screenshots of what happens for them - because that may not be what happens for you, and it won't be what happens in six months time when someone reviews the ticket. Screenshots don't change.
    – PeteCon
    Nov 14 '18 at 21:26
  • Just saying: I see much worse English from native speakers than from non-native speakers.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 14 '18 at 22:08
  • @gnasher729 Fair enough, but in the end it doesn't matter which is their mother tongue if they don't get the message across... Nov 15 '18 at 20:08

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