04 Dec 2008

A Rant On Grammar, Spelling and SEO

Every so often on Twitter (and in life) I find myself in a debate with familiar faces who like to argue with me that grammar and spelling and punctuation are highly-overrated.  They think that they can write how they write and that it is your job to decipher where a new sentence starts, what word they meant to type, and what parts of a phrase they inexplicably left out. I tend to disagree, but before I get into that, let me get a few things out of the way.

  • I am not an elitist grammar snob. My grammar isn’t nearly good enough for that.
  • I don’t think misspelling words or failing to punctuate properly means that you are uneducated/stupid/ignorant/not worth my time.
  • I don’t think that I am better than you because writing is something I have a small degree of talent in.
  • I realize that if everyone suddenly wrote really well, I’d probably be out of a job. So I should actually be thankful for €˜sentences’ and Twitters that read, “lol HA Ha going 2 gym dinner with friends party!” and shut up.

But I’m not going to shut up. Because I genuinely do feel that grammar and spelling are important. In fact, I think they’re vital.

And it’s not vital because you need to abide by archaic laws laid out by others. It’s not important to write clearly because it shows how smart you are. It’s important because people need to understand you. That’s what it’s about for me. It’s about creating content that is readable, whatever that content is.

Consider this:

  • I’ve unsubscribed to blogs where the writing made my eyes bleed.
  • I’ve unfollow’d people on Twitter because I wasn’t able to understand what the heck they were saying.
  • I’ve abandoned Web sites because the product details didn’t make sense or didn’t answer my question.

And I guarantee you I’m not the only one. Who else are you driving away?

The people I’ve unfollowed and unsubscribed from weren’t dumb. They were educated, intelligent, useful people. People who, if they spent five seconds to fix their mess, I’d probably find were saying some pretty important things. However, I’ll never know because I can’t understand what they meant because all I see is a jumbling of characters and halves of phrases. Even when I take the time to really figure out what they meant, I’m left guessing. I don’t want to have to guess.

If you have something to say, I want to hear it. Make sure that I do.

As I commented on Twitter yesterday, if you’re going to produce content, you have a responsibility to produce valuable content. Otherwise, what the heck are you doing? The greatest idea, horribly stated, goes nowhere. Trust me; I understand the power of voice.

For me, when someone throws up a piece of content that they clearly haven’t read over and is so jumbled that people can’t understand it €“ I think it’s disrespectful. They’re telling me that they didn’t care enough to fix it. I know that not everyone is skilled in grammar and spelling, but most of us aren’t completely illiterate either. You recognize that what you typed doesn’t make sense; you just don’t care enough to fix it. It’s not worth your time. I’m not worth your time. If that’s the case, okay, but I’ll be over here finding someone who does care about me.

There are plenty of arguments for why spelling and grammar are important €“ mistakes are distracting, they make people question your authority, you look unprofessional €“ but to me respect is really the biggest one.  As someone who produces content on a daily basis, I respect it. I respect the people that I write content for. I don’t have perfect grammar. I’m not the greatest speller in the world, but I self-edit things.  And even if they’re not perfect, it makes the content readable (er, usually).

I don’t care what you’re writing. I don’t care if it’s content for your Web site, if it’s a Twitter message (though we all flub those from time to time), a Sphinn description, etc. If you’re writing for an audience, you should respect that audience. You should respect that audience by making your content as readable as possible. Regardless of whether or not you graduated from school with an English, Business or Chemistry degree.

  • Read your Twitters before you send them (simple typos are forgivable).
  • Take pride in the content you put on your Web site.
  • Make sure that people are getting the message you’re putting out in blog posts.

You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be understood. That’s all I’m asking.

Comments

  1. QualityGal December 4, 2008 at 9:26 AM

    Brava!

    I’m a bit more of a perfectionist and grammar elitist than you, but I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here.

  2. DEE December 4, 2008 at 9:39 AM

    Amen!

  3. elguiri December 4, 2008 at 10:06 AM

    “# I don’t think that I am better than you because writing is something I have a small degree of talent in.”

    You finished that sentence with a preposition! (but it don’t matter).

  4. Susan Esparza December 4, 2008 at 10:11 AM

    This is exactly what I was explaining to someone on the phone yesterday.

  5. Pete White December 4, 2008 at 10:12 AM

    If the content is good I can normally overlook bad spelling, its not something I get hung up about.

  6. Lisa Barone December 4, 2008 at 10:14 AM

    As long as you know the rules you’re breaking, it’s allowed. :)

    I’ve never been one to give prepositions the respect they seem to think they deserve.

  7. Lisa Barone December 4, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    Pete: I can overlook it until I lose the message. Michael Gray is a good example of this (he’ll love me for mentioning him, heh).

    It’s clear he pays little attention to grammar in his blog posts, but they’re still READABLE and therefore I take zero issue with it. As long as I can still understand your message, a bum word or weird turn of phrase doesn’t get much notice from me. It’s when you make me try to guess what you’re trying to say that I just stop reading. Or when the errors are so ridiculous that it’s insulting to go on.

    There’s a difference between being not so great with grammar and blatantly not caring about the burden you put on others. One I can deal with, the other not so much.

  8. elguiri December 4, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    ¡Olé!

  9. Todd Mintz December 4, 2008 at 10:24 AM

    Bad grammar / spelling is definitely a sin, but potentially one that can be overlooked. However, being boring or even just ordinary is far worse of a sin :.)

  10. Virginia Nussey December 4, 2008 at 10:40 AM

    So true! A totally different take than my own when it comes to egregious spelling and grammar. Personally, I’m just fascinated (and somewhat saddened) by the way the Internet has created an evolution of the English language. I know my own grammar lapses started right around the time I got AIM back in the day. The instantaneous communication format didn’t require punctuation because every time I pressed enter there was a single thought being expressed. You think our ancestors sitting down to write a letter wouldn’t use proper grammar? Of course they would, because writing a letter was, like, sacred! You wrote a letter because you wanted to express something important to someone important, and you’d need to go down to the post office, pay for the postage, etc., etc. — there was all this thought involved. Now that written communication is free and instant and common, people seem to have forgotten the need for readability. Anyway, fabulous rant!

  11. graywolf December 4, 2008 at 11:29 AM

    I say this with nothing but love and respect but … STFUGG <3

    I want to read articles, information, and stories that stir my curiosity, creativity and make me think. Who cares if I messed up their, there, or they’re.

    Who cares if if I dindn’t use a comma, colon, semi-colon dangled a particible, or heaven forbid used a run on sentence.

    It’s bean counting nit picking like this that stifles creativity and out of the box thinking.

    Bad Spellers of the World UNTIE!!!

    c’mon you gatta admit that was a little funny :-)

  12. streko December 4, 2008 at 11:33 AM

    i deed learn alot from yur post. thank you for hilping me realizz what the red liens mean.

  13. Lisa Barone December 4, 2008 at 11:36 AM

    Graywolf: Maybe you should give the article another read because you’ve apparently missed the point. :)

    I want to read articles that are unique and that make me think, too. That’s why this is so frustrating. I WANT to understand what people are saying. It’s not about a missed comma or a run on sentence. You can throw in all the run on sentences you want. UNTIL you do it the point where people lose the point of your message because you’re no longer speaking a language people understand.

    And I’m starting to see more and more of that. People who have become so lazy that they write things with no respect for the people they’re writing for.

    Make all the grammar mistakes you want, but make sure I know what you’re saying. If you can’t do that, then you have no business publishing anything.

  14. Lisa Barone December 4, 2008 at 11:36 AM

    Streko: I hate you. :)

  15. streko December 4, 2008 at 11:37 AM

    Leza Baroone: Your Lier

  16. cK ! December 4, 2008 at 11:38 AM

    Someone called me a “grammar nazi” the other day! I told ‘em that I wouldn’t consider myself a “nazi”… just because I have graduated from high school.

  17. QualityGal December 4, 2008 at 11:42 AM

    Streko makes me twitch.

    And to clarify the whole “ending a sentence with a preposition” thing, Grammar Girl says it’s fine. Daily Writing Tips seems to agree.

  18. Jack Leblond December 4, 2008 at 11:42 AM

    Lisa, I completely agree. People are too quick to hit the “publish” button. Save your work, enjoy a cold beverage, then take five minutes to slowly read your materials.

    If you are wanting me to give you money for a product or service, and it’s obvious to me that you can’t take the time to review your own work, how can I be expected to believe you will perform any better on mine?

  19. Lorraine Lance December 4, 2008 at 11:45 AM

    I was just asking around the other day to see if there was a polite way to hand someone a grammar book. Perhaps I’ll just casually drop a link to this page and let them make the inference. Thanks!

  20. fairminder December 4, 2008 at 11:45 AM

    Reading over content before publishing is reasonable, respectful and intelligent. And so is fixing the mistakes you find. I am no grammarian, but I can tell when a word is missing. I can tell because it stops the flow, pauses the thought process and diverts attention.

    “by making your content as readable as you possible. ”

    Good reminder. ;)

  21. Lisa Barone December 4, 2008 at 11:47 AM

    Jack: THANK YOU! I’d ask to kiss you if you weren’t already engaged. :)

    Same goes for you cK :)

    Fairminder: Everyone’s a critic. :) Fixed. Thank you!

  22. netmeg December 4, 2008 at 11:50 AM

    I spent many year editing copying, so spelling and grammar errors tend to leap off the page at me. Thus I agree with you in principle; I will go so far as to admit that 98% of the time my overall impression is affected use or misuse thereof. That said, that a handful of the best writers/story tellers I’ve ever read used atrocious spelling and grammar, and it didn’t matter in the least.

    Spelling Nazi? With us it was the Spelling P*nis. As in, “who died and made YOU the Spelling P*nis??”

    Personally, I’m willing to forgive almost crime, up to and including homicide in front of my own mama, for someone who knows the proper use of a semicolon. It’s what attracted me to my most recent significant other, believe it or not.

  23. netmeg December 4, 2008 at 11:52 AM

    (that was supposed to be “editing copy” so I guess I’m not the spelling p*nis today either)

  24. cK ! December 4, 2008 at 11:58 AM

    Lisa: I am single… :P

  25. MikeTek December 4, 2008 at 11:58 AM

    I’m a bit of a grammar snob myself. I’m another writer, though. I’m not sure most people notice or care, but those glaring flaws kill the flow of my reading.

    I was reading a writing sample a prospective copywriter sent over yesterday and found a glaring flaw. It killed my concentration on the topic. I stopped reading.

    Writing is asking your readers to follow a story or path in logic. Good writing enraptures the reader to that path and keeps them reading. Catching an error can break that trance – perhaps just long enough for your reader to lose interest.

  26. Tony Adam December 4, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    I totally get your points Lisa, but as soon as I came to the post, I see “Spelling / Grammer” and maybe its my fault for jumping to conclusions right away. But, that said, Headlines and titles mean everything and can make or break if someone goes on. I read the first paragraph and figured. Alright, this post is going to be another one of those “grammer/spelling stickler” posts. Just sayin…

    I truly get your points, but just had to throw in my two cents ;)

    <3

  27. Scott Polk December 4, 2008 at 12:05 PM

    @graywolf well put

  28. [[Neo]] December 4, 2008 at 1:23 PM

    @Lisa Barone: I completely agree. I’ve always done my best to use complete sentences and correct grammar/punctuation/etc. in everything – including Instant Messages and Twitter. It’s frustrating when you have to figure out what someone is saying, and by the time you do, you realize the content wasn’t even worth the time it took to decipher it.

    If one takes the time to completely, and correctly, spell the words (using accepted abbreviations where necessary), and punctuate properly for things like Twitter, text messages and IMs, one will find that there is a great deal more to be said with a great deal less being said. Twitter is an exercise in compact, concise communication…an exercise that will help in all other aspects of communication to all other audiences.

  29. Annie Cushing December 4, 2008 at 1:23 PM

    I see the point Lisa is making here. The goal of good copy is making yourself understandable, which is just good manners and business.

    As a junior reporter, my first editor used to always say, “Don’t make me stop and figure out what you’re trying to say.” Her guiding principle was people are busy, and they don’t want to have to read something you’ve written twice b/c they can’t figure out what you’re trying to communicate.

    Because she was a hard ass, she would hand back any article at the point she “tripped” and make me fix it. (In her mind, making a reader stop and re-read something was tantamount to tripping someone.) It was ridiculously annoying at the time, but it drilled into me the importance of having a flow of thought that others can easily follow.

    As far as grammar and spelling go, I find that I have different thresholds of what I’m willing to endure, depending on what I’m reading and why:

    If it’s Twitter, a personal blog, a site that does movie reviews, or something like that, I could really care less about the grammar – as long as it’s reasonably understandable.

    If it’s a site that’s selling something, I start to get a little pickier. If I’m looking to buy something relatively inconsequential, like a DVD, game, song, or clothes, no big d. (If it’s shoes, I don’t care if it’s written in Pig Latin; I’m buying on funk factor alone.)

    But if I visit a site that offers services that are pricier (like consulting services) or deal with relatively serious issues (like health or legal sites), I’m less tolerant of sloppy copy that’s written on a 7th grade level. I expect a company that wants me to fork over a serious stack – or trust their legal/health advice – to respect me enough to hire a competent copywriter.

    As far as not be allowed to end a sentence with preposition, that rule went out with leg warmers and Aquanet. :)

  30. Michael Zed December 4, 2008 at 4:37 PM

    Hi Lisa,

    I think I AM a bit of a spelling and grammar Nasty. Mainly ‘coz I feel it refelcts badly on the author, or the author’s enterprise or organisation.

    For example, yesterday I was invited to fill in a form as part of the evaluation of a conference I attended on the subject of Innovation & Australia. I got to a point in the survey form where I was asked, by the state Department of Trade and Economic Development here in South Australia [Australia], whether I “definately” agreed with a proposition. All I could do was respond in the comments section, “it’s definitely NOT definately”.

    Grrrrrrrr. Would I, as an international organisation or individual, wish to do business with a lead government agency that can’t spell?

    Regards,

    Michael Zerman

    (That’s Zerman, like German with a ZED. How hard is that?

    ;-)

  31. Michelle December 5, 2008 at 3:40 PM

    Excellent rant, Lisa! Why do people immediately start throwing out names like “snob” and “nazi” at those of us who take pride in doing something not just well, but correctly? No one ever called Michael Jordan a basketball nazi, did they? Jeez…

    Annie, I love this: “In her mind, making a reader stop and re-read something was tantamount to tripping someone.” I agree wholeheartedly. But I do feel obligated to tell you, leg warmers are back. ;-)

  32. John Sullivan December 6, 2008 at 12:32 AM

    Hi Lisa
    Well my grammar and speling is obviously an important issue I need to work on.My main pet peeve with all to many bloggers is the lack of their use of the words Thank You. I have done countless things for bloggers and am always amazed at the lack of class to take one second to say thanks. In fact if someone does or if they just says “Hi” with no strings I’m often shocked,that’s pretty sad :( Anyway looks like you have a great following and I bookmarked you and stumbled
    Good to see a real Do follow blog ;) Mine is also
    Happy Holidays to all :)
    “Thank You ” ;)

  33. Lisa Barone December 6, 2008 at 7:44 AM

    Michelle: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Michael Jordan is definitely a basketball nazi. Some nerve he has being all talented and making the rest of us feel bad. :)

    And I wore my leg warmers to work yesterday so I’m glad you agree with me that they’re back in style!

    John: I think that’s a very valid complaint. We all get so caught up in our own days that we often forget to say “thanks”. Before I left my old job, I wrote a post “thanking” our readers because I felt like it was an important thing to do.

    http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/archives/2008/09/10_things_i_love_about_you.html

    I just write. They’re the ones who take time out of their day to read and comment. That’s something to be grateful for.

    So…thanks for finding us here and thanks for taking the time to comment. Don’t be a stranger. :)

  34. Annie Cushing December 8, 2008 at 8:07 AM

    Michelle,

    Honest – I was in the far-left lane when I wrote that comment and just threw up the first two things from the 80s I could think of. So, yeah, I about *died* when I heard later that day that Lisa had just received her leg warmers in the mail.

    I had no idea they came back. But I’m in Florida, so there wouldn’t be much of a market for them here.

    Why couldn’t they have come back when I was freezing my butt off in CO? I even did a search for them once. I hate to be cold so much, I would have worn them even if they weren’t in style.

    Sorry, Lisa! Enjoy your leg warmers. :)

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  36. Michelle December 8, 2008 at 11:00 AM

    Lisa – I got it all worked out with MJ. He doesn’t try to write and I don’t try to dunk. So now we don’t have to feel bad! :-)

    Annie – Little did you know! :-) It’s not just leg warmers. 80s style has come back in a big way! Leggings, ballet flats, even those fingerless gloves! I just wish I knew what I did with all that stuff I had in high school. At least the gloves and the leg warmers would still fit.

    But hey, if you don’t like being cold, you know what’s big now? Footie pajamas for grown-ups. Seriously.

  37. Mememax January 8, 2009 at 11:33 AM

    don’t you think that a great cause of this may be our new technologies?!? Day by day our lifestyle is more and more frenetic, quick, We don’t have time to read (the percentage of people reading a newspaper has fall down a lot), we consume internet news as if we are in a fast food: look at digg: two lines to describe a news: I like it? I vote it, I don’t like it I pass to another, it’s impossible to describe a fact in only two lines and even more in 160 characters as we do in sms and twitter. So the birth of “I luv u 2 4 evr”… what’s this?!?!

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  39. L May 1, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    As I was doing a search on the subject, I found this. I began searching due to my frustration of reading through posts I’m seeing while online that are driving me crazy. The spelling, grammar and punctuation is atrocious, by some who are apparently not youngsters.

    As mentioned here, I too cannot read posts and have to abort while scrolling through topics on websites. Now, I’ve seen this for quite some time, yet it just messed with my head so at the moment that I had to comment. Are kids not learning English or typing any longer? Is it due to their having become reliant on Texting?

    I have wondered why many who are posting do not recognize how they are writing or typing when “Spell Check” is always enabled (for me) on websites. it appears others are either ignoring it, don’t have it enabled or are completely unaware they are doing anything wrong. It is just got to me and I’m feeling like I am from another planet.

    Anyway, thanks for allowing me to vent.

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