For people that spend their days forming exquisite sentences and crafting deliciously punny headlines, correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are the cornerstones of their art. These are essential, fundamental, and they are most certainly not up for discussion.
In this world of text speak, abbreviations and hashtags, are content purists old hat, or are they more relevant than ever? Does it really matter if you use ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’? How many people would notice if you incorrectly typed ‘effect’ instead of ‘affect’? Does anyone truly understand when to use a semi-colon?
Are content purists old hat, or are they more relevant than ever?
If people can understand your message, what difference does accurate spelling and appropriate punctuation make? What if I told you that it could be hurting your business? Would that make a difference?
Languages are constantly evolving. Words can acquire new meanings over time depending on how they are utilised. ‘Sick’, for example, used to simply be a synonym for ill, yet now it can also refer to something being exceptionally good. Actually, for that matter, so can ‘ill’. Go figure.
The version of English we speak today is no better, nor is it any worse, than the form exercised in the time of Shakespeare. In Charles Darwin’s pioneering work ‘On the Origin of Species’, he described evolution as ‘the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioural traits’. This applies not only to living beings, but also to language. Language is being endlessly modified, adapted and altered to make it more efficient for those using it. This is why there is no one definitive edition of the dictionary; it requires periodical updates so as to avoid becoming outdated and irrelevant. The content of different dictionaries evolves and morphs in line with common usage and even commonly accepted definitions can often be amended to suit the dictionary writer’s political or religious leanings.
Language is not static; it is malleable and open to interpretation. As writers and communicators, it is our role to understand how best to reach people, and that means speaking to them in a language they understand. But does that mean it is justifiable to openly flaunt the basic rules we were taught during our time at school?
It is our role to understand how best to reach people
A few weeks ago, I went to Australia. If you haven’t been, I thoroughly recommend it; the food is sublime, the beaches are clean, and there are far fewer snakes than wildlife documentaries would have you believe. However, while these are undoubtedly positives, there is something Australians seem unable to do – use apostrophes correctly. I lost count of the number of times a sign told me ‘your on CCTV’, or declared a beach to be ‘Australias best’. It was incredibly annoying. I started to look for errors everywhere I went, and needless to say, I found them.
If, like me, you’re a bit of a pedant when it comes to apostrophes, you’ll understand how irritating it can be when one is used incorrectly, or not used at all. From a personal perspective, poor use of spelling, punctuation or grammar seriously damages a business’s reputation, because it represents either a lack of care, of a lack of ability. It sounds petty, but such mistakes would likely stop me from committing to a purchase.
While in Sydney I spoke to a friend of a friend, who just so happens to be a journalist for Fox Sports. He told me that poor use of grammar, punctuation and spelling is rife throughout Australia, and stated that though it’s something that annoys him from time to time, he rarely notices it anymore.
Such mistakes would likely stop me from committing to a purchase
So, is this just another part of the language evolution?
Written and spoken
There is, of course, a huge difference between the language we speak, and the language we read and write. When we speak, we tend to use simpler language; the desire is more often than not to get to the point, rather than use flowery metaphors or state unnecessary details. Also, many people have a tendency to rush their sentences or to speak without fully establishing the words that are going to come out. This is largely because when speaking, we have the ability to make instantaneous corrections. If you say the wrong thing, or make a minor blooper, it can be immediately remedied. And, because the person to whom you are speaking is listening and following the conversation, they will be able to grasp what is being said, even if it comes out a bit muddled.
The same is not always true of the written word.
When writing, the onus is on the author to ensure the communication can be understood by someone who is not there. Clarity, precision and avoidance of ambiguity are key. You, as the writer, need to be sure that the content you are producing will be interpreted in the way you envisage. If what you have written is confusing, or open to interpretation, your content isn’t working as well as it could – or should – be. Taking the time to prioritise ease of understanding not only makes your content more impactful, it ensures everything you produce reflects well on your company.
Weak content can cut sales
At all costs
According to entrepreneur Charles Duncombe, a single spelling mistake can result in businesses losing a lot of money. Duncombe, who runs a number of internet firms, carried out a series of tests to ascertain consumer behaviour on a web page with accurate spelling, and then compared it to the same page but with a spelling error inserted. He concluded that weak content can cut sales by a staggering 50%, and believes that because more and more business is being done online, many businesses could be missing out on vital custom because of simple and avoidable slip-ups on their websites.
Duncombe’s concerns have been echoed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), whose head of education and skills declared that far too many employers have no choice but to invest in remedial literacy lessons for staff because they lack basic English skills.
First impressions matter, and given that our attention spans are becoming increasingly shorter, you don’t want to give potential customers any reason to discard your content out of hand. When someone looks at your page, you want them to get the impression that your company is competent, detailed oriented, and credible. If their initial insight into your brand leaves them feeling as though you’ve been far from meticulous with regard to spellchecking and proofreading, you’re all but encouraging them to go elsewhere.
When it comes to content marketing, you need to be able to engage and inform. You can spend hour upon hour designing a visually striking email or website, but if the content is littered with blunders, how can you assure your would-be customers that you are a company worth doing business with? If you haven’t taken the time to perfect your own website, are you really going to be able to produce faultless work for someone else?
It may seem harsh, but try and come at it from a personal viewpoint. If you see two identical products for sale, one with correct punctuation in the description, and one without, which will you ultimately decide to purchase? It seems, as the kids say, a no-brainer.
If the content is littered with blunders, how can you assure your would-be customers?
The bottom line
We’ve established that language is a relentlessly shifting beast, but that does not mean that accuracy, detail and thoroughness can be ignored. Content that is well written can be a huge boon to a business, and can be the difference between making a sale, and gifting one to a competitor. For marketers, there is no excuse; make your writing the best it can be, and do all you can to bolster your company’s standing in the process.