Craigslist Ads With Good Grammar Get Better Response
NEW YORK -- The desperate, last-minute hustle to rent a room in New York City often ends, for both landlords and tenants, on Craigslist. The site stretches its arms wide open to anyone in need -- no matter how poor their handle on orthography.
Sometimes the ads dip into the informal argot of the cellphone era: "If u r interested text me," or the abbreviated, punctuated style carried over from offline classified outlets of yore: "Ldry, elev."
But spend a little too much time on Craigslist, and something else starts to stand out in a small but distinct percentage of ads: the grisly grammar, the careless capitalization.
On Craigslist, and on eBay and many other places on the Web, "youll be impressed" -- just maybe not the way the posters intended.
Many of the grammar mix-ups, of course, could be due to to the incredible diversity of New York City; many renters may well have learned English as a second language. Or maybe they were just in a hurry.
But another explanation is possible, according to Robert Lane Greene, a correspondent for the Economist and the author of "You Are What You Speak," released in February.
"So many more people are writing than ever before in history," Greene told HuffPost. "We're seeing a lot of, basically, people writing like they speak," he added.
For linguistic prescriptivists -- those who want to tell everyone else how to talk -- it wouldn't be a good idea to shack up with a clumsy speller, Greene said. "I imagine lots of passive-aggressive notes on the fridge."
But grammar scolds aren't the only ones who take note of readability on the Internet.
Researcher Panos Ipeirotis, an associate professor at NYU's Stern School of Business, made the fascinating finding that "demand for a hotel increases if the reviews on TripAdvisor and Travelocity are well-written, without spelling errors; this holds no matter if the review is positive or negative."
Online shoe retailer Zappos took advantage of that fact when it deployed electronic grammar police to fix reviews of products on its site. Sales went up. Readability, as opposed to a product's popularity, is king.
Ipeirotis told HuffPost he has "no doubt" the same finding would hold for apartments on Craigslist.
While good grammar and good manners, or the other qualities that make a good roommate, are not necessarily correlated, Ipeirotis acknowledged, "people perceive it like that."
The reasons for that perception are little unclear, he cautioned.
Greene thinks the same instinct that leads readers to trust ads that sound better-educated also leads posters to write over-the-top "cool" room listings on Craigslist -- or self-consciously eclectic profiles on Facebook and OkCupid.
"We judge each other's writing as a way of saying some other person doesn't have the kind of education we have," Greene speculated.
That does not necessarily mean readers of online reviews are thinking in terms of social status, but it is something related: "It's not so much class in terms of how much money you're born with, but class defined in terms of education," Greene said.