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Grammarly’s CEO Says Bad Writing Costs Businesses $400 Billion. Here’s How to Fix It

When you think about how you spend your day, a lot of it probably involves writing. You write emails, and text messages, and proposals, and memos. You spend time writing in ways you don’t even think about, like composing social media posts. You also spend a lot of time reading all of those same things written by your co-workers, friends, and customers.

You already know how important good communication is, but you probably also know that sometimes words are hard. Sometimes getting the meaning right the first time is hard. Punctuation and grammar? Also hard. Not only that, but bad writing has a very real cost

I talked to Grammarly’s CEO, Brad Hoover, about just how hard it really is, and about the company’s mission to fix it. You’re probably already familiar with Grammarly–the AI-powered writing assistant.

With its 30 million users, the company knows something about writing. It’s the go-to service for fixing grammar, punctuation, and awkward sentences for professionals, college students, and people who write for a living–which is pretty much everyone, even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, by the way. 

Grammarly says its mission is to “improve lives by improving communication.” At first, it would be easy to dismiss that as just something companies say to make the boring thing they do sound important. Except, when you think about the real-world implications of bad writing, it’s worth considering that better communication leads to a lot of things that make our lives better. 

Hoover points to an estimate from writer and analyst Josh Bernoff, who looked at the amount of time lost as a result of poor writing and communication. That showed that companies lose an estimated $400 billion in lost productivity due to bad writing. 

That seems like an impossible number until you consider the amount of time you spend going back and forth trying to figure out what someone means. Maybe it’s trying to understand a customer support email, or refining a sales proposal, or decoding an email from your boss. 

Bad writing doesn’t just make it harder to communicate, it can make you look bad. That has an even bigger cost when you consider that common writing mistakes can cause people to form an opinion about you and your business. 

“The problem that we exist to solve is the fact that communication is super difficult and even harder as it’s digitized,” Hoover told me. “At the same time, it’s getting even more important. Having a toolset that can help guide people to their communications goals is critical.”

Currently, people use Grammarly across a half million different apps and services, but in most cases, that means they’re using the browser extension. The benefit to that is that you can use it on websites like Twitter or Slack or Google Docs. Almost everywhere you write online, Grammarly can help you write better.

Of course, not everywhere you write is online, and even then, there are sites that don’t quite work with Grammarly’s extension. That’s why the company announced today that developers will be able to integrate directly with Grammarly to provide a more seamless experience. 

That means developers can take advantage of Grammarly’s software development kit (SDK) to tie in directly with the service. According to the company:

Grammarly’s Text Editor SDK enables developers to offer the most comprehensive set of AI-powered English writing suggestions currently available. Feedback and suggestions are delivered across four categories of writing: correctness (grammar and writing mechanics), clarity (conciseness and readability), engagement (vocabulary and variety), and delivery (tone, formality, and confidence). Suggestions are presented in-line and in real time so that users can quickly and easily accept suggestions as they write.

That probably sounds a lot like the experience of using Grammarly now, except that it can be built right into the products and services developers are making. I’ve used Grammarly for years as a paying customer. The only frustration I’ve had is that there are apps that are essential to my workflow that don’t have Grammarly built-in. 

In those cases, I often find myself writing elsewhere and copying and paste, just so I can be sure I’m not making a bunch of grammatical mistakes that keep me from getting my point across. I’m not less likely to make those mistakes just because Grammarly is built-in, but with the company’s goal of being “available everywhere people communicate,” it will save me time–which, to Hoover’s point about the cost of bad writing–is largely the point. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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