Grammar Attacks

Filed as Features on December 16, 2008 5:43 am

I will freely admit that I am not the best when it comes to spelling, grammar and all that good stuff. In fact I am one of those people who writes like I talk, which can often lead to peculiarities that perhaps are best scrubbed in the edit.

My approach has always been to aim to provide valuable content despite my English inadequacies, but it seems mistakes in spelling, syntax, structure or grammar annoy some people so much that they can not read any further.

I can understand how there can be a limit to any individual’s patience when it comes to wading through error after error, but I am finding that there are folks out there who have a much lower tolerance than I had expected. Rather than help by pointing out problems they unsubscribe, stating my credibility is shattered.

Now, I am not singling out anyone in particular, my goal here is both obviously to have a good moan but also to get to the issue.

  • How bad does the English need to be before credibility is lost?
  • How many mistakes are acceptable?
  • What is the tipping point from irritant to intolerable?

The web is full of people who either do not have strong writing skills or do not have English as their first language, and nevertheless have lots of value to offer. I believe everyone has something valuable to share within them.

Obviously some of us set ourselves up for greater criticism, I have to expect more heat about deficiencies in my writing skills when I am advising people how to write for the web!

We all make mistakes, and most of us are grateful when we are given the opportunity to correct them. When it comes to goofs in writing, where do you draw the line?

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  1. By Gareth Crew posted on December 16, 2008 at 5:59 am
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    I don’t think that spelling and grammer is really that big a deal in the web world, especially when we have American English, proper English and people writing English as their second language.

    As a former Sub Editor I’ve known people who just can’t get past the smallest mistake, and moan about the work – something, Chris, I think you’ve just experienced! These people are very special and are few and far between.

    If you can just express yourself clearly and in an entertaining way, what’s the big deal if you use compliment or complement?

    I think that a typo or two makes the work more accesible anyway, as if you pick it out – you feel happy!

    Well – that’s my two cents anyway! :)

    Reply

  2. By Robin Houghton posted on December 16, 2008 at 6:08 am
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    Chris, I don’t think there are any absolutes, as in ‘one misplaced apostrophe is OK, but 3 and that’s it!’

    I’m probably one of the pedants you’re complaining about, because certain errors strike me as ignorance rather than typos/goofs, and that’s when I get annoyed. (I’m talking about native English speakers here). It also depends on whether it’s the final straw in a day of annoying stuff! However, I like to think I’m reasonably tolerant of occasional typos, because of course I make them myself.

    Blogging, by its very nature, should allow for spontaneity (<– could be wrong spelling, I haven’t checked it!) and ‘writing as you speak’ is actually a skill in itself that many do not have.

    So … you can’t please everyone, but I think it shows a certain attention to detail and respect for one’s readers if a writer does his/her best to eliminate glaring errors. Just my 2p-worth!!

    Reply

  3. By Leif Kendall posted on December 16, 2008 at 6:22 am
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    I think most people can tolerate a few errors, but I think if you’re writing on behalf of a business, then it’s sensible to use a spell checker and ask a colleague who understands grammar to review your work.

    Poor grammar and spelling can make writing difficult to understand, or easy to misinterpret – obviously not a good thing when you’re trying to communicate.

    If you’re getting complaints, and people are finding your regular mistakes an annoyance, I think you should consider doing something about it. While you’re right that providing good, useful content should be your aim, it sounds like the gaps in your writing arsenal are starting to hinder your work.

    Do you have a colleague who could act as your editor?

    Reply

  4. By Linnet Woods posted on December 16, 2008 at 6:35 am
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    As a freelance writer it is expected of me that I produce work which is grammatically correct, spell-checked before submission and intelligible to a wide-ranging audience. As an editor, I am expected to tidy up work produced by individuals who have valuable ideas and information to impart but are not necessarily accustomed to addressing an invisible audience. Those who employ my services pay me reasonably well to provide them and this remuneration is funded out of sales.

    Bloggers and others who provide inspiration, ideas, information and entertainment at no cost to their readers, frequently spending time that might have been put to profitable use elsewhere in order to do so, can hardly be expected to spend money on professional editing into the bargain.

    One might think that, as a person to whom words are so important, I would be amongst the first to pour scorn and heap abuse upon anyone whose work fell below an entirely professional standard in the grammatical sense but, on the contrary, I am concerned with only one thing in the reading I undertake for my own benefit: absorption of the message contained within the text.

    When I have paid for my reading material, I expect it to be written professionally. When the national newspapers we purchase are full of errors, as they so frequently seem to be, it is annoying.

    When taking advantage of the extraordinary generosity of those who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with me at no charge, however, it matters not whether the grammar is correct, the spelling precise or the punctuation accurately positioned. What is important is the transfer of ideas and information from the provider to the receiver and your offerings are always instructional, interesting and entertaining, What more could one ask of you unless willing to pay for you to employ the services of a professional editor?

    It seems to me that those who place such a high value on semantics that they would prefer to miss out on the message altogether, are ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ to adopt an apt cliche, and should be pitied for their short-sighted approach. Please carry on, and don’t let a vocal minority of hair-splitters drown out the unexpressed appreciation of the many who look eagerly for your next post. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, as an equally appropriate saying goes, and there is no good reason why you should feel obliged to try and do so.

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  5. By ian in hamburg posted on December 16, 2008 at 7:20 am
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    If the writer isn’t a native English speaker I’ll cut him a lot of slack, because having learned two foreign languages from scratch, I know how difficult it can be to express yourself properly in another one.

    But if a blogger consistently gets things wrong – switches loose for lose, it’s for its, for example – I simply tune out. It’s so annoying to read.

    Reply

  6. By Lucy posted on December 16, 2008 at 8:06 am
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    I think saying that your credibility is shattered is a bit strong!

    I do find that typos, grammatical infelicities and the like snag the attention, and create a hiccup in the flow from written word to brain … which makes me a good proofreader, but can be a distraction from the content.

    As the others have said, it does depend on the context, and on who the author is. If you were writing about grammar, an error would be more of a jolt, though even then, forgivable – we all make mistakes. Perhaps, though, the people who unsubscribed find it difficult to get back on track once their attention has been derailed?

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  7. By Kelly McCausey posted on December 16, 2008 at 9:50 am
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    I am far from perfect and I am always a bit stunned that someone actually takes time out of their day to send me a critique on my grammar or spelling.

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  8. By Leif Kendall posted on December 16, 2008 at 10:06 am
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    I think Linnet Woods makes some good points, although I disagree with the idea that just because a blogger is giving away their ideas or knowledge, they don’t need to worry about the quality of their output.

    Misusing grammar or misspelling words can make writing difficult to understand. I just read one of Chris’ earlier posts and had to re-read a sentence twice to get the right meaning – all because he hadn’t used an apostrophe. Now, that’s not so bad, and I don’t mind re-reading a sentence, but for a lot of busy people that’s an irritation they don’t have time for.

    I would suggest that anyone who writes for a living (and Chris’ bio describes him as a professional blogger) might try to gradually learn the things that trouble them.

    Strunk and White’s book on grammar is excellent – I often refer to it.

    Also, judging by all of the ads on this site, I don’t think Linnet’s argument that because we don’t have to pay for the content on this site, the quality doesn’t matter, is very strong. Readers on this site ‘pay’ for the privilege by being exposed to the ads, who pay people like Chris for that privilege.

    Again, I don’t mind the occasional error, but routine mistakes and a plain disregard for the rules of grammar do suggest a lack of consideration for your audience. Perhaps that is why they complain so much.

    I love blogging, and think that anyone can do it – but anyone who isn’t confident with spelling and grammar should ask for a second opinion. And that doesn’t mean employing a professional editor – try friends, family or colleagues.

    Reply

  9. By Chris Garrett posted on December 16, 2008 at 10:17 am
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    Thanks all, lot’s to think about :)

    For those who asked, it was two comments in one day – not a constant flow of criticism :) In most cases people only complain when I spell things “incorrectly” (such as organise). If people do spot real errors and have the generosity to point out where I went wrong I always try to both correct the mistake and learn from it.

    All anyone can do I guess is keep the content value higher than the irritation factor :)

    Reply

  10. By John Thompson posted on December 16, 2008 at 10:31 am
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    I agree that it’s not an either-or issue in that one typo does not completely destroys all credibility, depending on what/where that one typo is. It’s also dependent on the writing venue – an informal blog reply is not on the same level as a business communication, a resume, or a professional journal. But I don’t get the distinction between the “Web world” and all else. Why the “get out of jail” free pass for Internet authors?

    For me, it’s not so much wordsmithing issues, but simple misspellings (e.g., its/it’s, they’re/there/their, loose/lose) that rankle me.

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  11. By Ian posted on December 16, 2008 at 10:39 am
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    I think that communicating your point is the most important part of any blog post. If your level of spelling, grammar and punctuation enables you to do this effectively then it’s “good enough”.

    On top of this, I find my propensity to scan most of the content on the Web means I don’t notice as many typos as I otherwise would.

    Having said that, if you’re writing for a living – even if it’s ‘just a blog’, even if it’s ‘just marketing’ for your services – take 2 minutes to proof read your blog posts – it won’t kill you. Probably.

    Finally, you are spelling ‘organize’ incorrectly, Chris :D

    Check the OED, the ‘s’ is given as an alternative spelling, the ‘z’ is the “correct” one – yes, even here in England ;)

    Reply

  12. By Big Fella posted on December 16, 2008 at 1:01 pm
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    While English may be an almost universal language across the globe, it certainly is not everyone’s first language. When I read a blog in English, obviously written by a non-native English speaker I appreciate the fact that the author is making an effort to share their thoughts with me and I can easily forgive grammatical errors. This is the essential quality of the “blogosphere” everyone has an opportunity to express themselves, and it is not for me to judge anyone based upon their mastery of a foreign language or educational opportunity.

    I have no tolerance for grammatical or spelling errors in my own blog items and try to review them multiple times prior to posting, and will not hesitate to go back and correct after publication. As a blog author I feel I must do my best to publish quality language. (Not always easy, having failed college English, one of the most boring classes I ever took.)

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  13. By dimitri posted on December 17, 2008 at 2:05 am
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    If you are blogging just for fun or for yourself, writing and grammar mistakes aren’t that important, although the simple act to write requests some skills. The problem appears when you write for a newspaper or when you counsel the romanian PM in the electoral campaign. I just gave up reading a blog just because the author, who is the political department cheif of a newspaper, made several grammar mistakes.
    To me it is unacceptable not to speak or write correctly in your native language.

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  14. By Francesca posted on December 17, 2008 at 9:44 am
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    Personally, I don’t let myself be discouraged and won’t complain with a blogger because of the occasional typo or grammar mistake, if the content of his/her blog items is interesting. However, if grammar and spelling are too shabby, the message intended won’t simply get across.

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  15. By Droug posted on December 17, 2008 at 10:25 am
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    I have a misspelt blog:)

    Doug

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  16. By John Thompson posted on December 17, 2008 at 11:43 am
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    So when is “too shabby” too much? Sounds like it’s in the eye/mind of the beholder. Similar to Goldilocks and the Three Bears (too hard, too soft, just right). And there are blogs and then there are blogs. Expectations vary with the type of blog. Some are personal, some are businesses, some are merely comments to another’s blog.

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  17. By Jesse Petersen posted on December 17, 2008 at 3:17 pm
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    I’ll preface my feedback with some background: I’ve always been a geek, nerd, spelling bee contestant, and now English major.

    There is a big difference between typos, writing as you would speak, and outright “don’t know nuthin’ ’bout communication.” A typo is sloppy, but okay. Using contractions improperly or using “irregardless” is a sign of not caring about reading and writing in school. Using f-bombs and not structuring your sentences correctly is an abomination (example: Rosie O’Donnell).

    I noticed in your article one of the differences between technical, proper grammar and journalistic grammar: the lack of the serial comma. What you did is fine here, but not in a government manual on blowing up a hideout with C4. :)

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  18. By Melissa Donovan posted on December 17, 2008 at 5:52 pm
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    I’m working on an article about this very subject. Here’s the thing: if your content is extremely entertaining or offers valuable advice that can’t be gotten elsewhere (or both!), readers will be far more forgiving of grammar errors. In any case, blogging is only becoming more competitive, so acquiring better grammar skills will only help, and writing skills are a BIG part of blogging.

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  19. By Joy-Mari posted on December 18, 2008 at 3:47 am
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    Good grammar is as important as good spelling. Why would you want your readers to stumble [over ambiguous meanings] while reading your posts? Get someone else to read your posts before you post them.

    There is no excuse for sloppy writing. Get someone else to write for you if you can’t do it well.

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  20. By Ruby Mein posted on December 18, 2008 at 4:09 am
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    Yes, you are right there Melissa. I guess when you are an article writer you must have a good background on grammar, spelling, etc. because in a world today good grammar skills is a vital thing.

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  21. By Daniel T posted on December 19, 2008 at 4:41 pm
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    “Me fail English? That’s unpossible.” – The Simpsons

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  22. By Big Fella posted on December 19, 2008 at 5:13 pm
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    I RESEMBLE that! -Norm Crosby

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  23. By Barbra Sundquist, Bio Writer posted on December 19, 2008 at 8:06 pm
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    I must admit I’m a grammar snob. It’s not that I feel superior, it’s that I find it jarring to have to mentally translate “it’s” to “its” and “compliment” to “complement”. The fact is, incorrect usage changes the meaning of the sentence.

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