Why good grammar and punctuation matters

advice | copywriting
Couple stand with books in front of faces in front of bookcases full of other books

Ok, it’s confession time. From the get-go, writing was never a hardship for me. I loved words. I loved spelling. Grammar, punctuation, syntax, lexis, it all fills me with Marie Kondo-type joy. My Dad even called me the “human dictionary” from about the age of nine. He could yell any word up the stairs that he needed help with and I’d shout the spelling back down to him. I am, without shame, a complete word nerd. This goes a long way to explaining why I believe that good grammar and punctuation matter. But let’s talk this out a little more…

A few years back, in my “paramedic days”, there were many discussions about the state of the ambulance service and how to fix it. Of course, most of us were members of a union and it was our unions that spoke for us the majority of the time. On one issue, it came about that there was a letter written by one of the union representatives. It was sent to all the members to read and sign. It was meant to be a letter written on behalf of us all, about an important problem that many of us were experiencing.

When the letter arrived in my inbox, I had already heard how great it was. It was full of passion and well-worded arguments. It was professional. It was bold. It was a game-changer. These were all the things I heard.

And so I opened the email with interest and began to read.

Couple stand with books in front of faces in front of bookcases full of other books

I can only describe the next few minutes as a complete assault on my eyeballs. Yes, it was passionate. Yes, it was well-worded, bold, a game-changer. It was a letter for getting shit done, that was for sure. But, fuck, if it wasn’t RIDDLED with spelling and grammatical errors! And, believe me, I realise the absolute irony of that well-crafted sentence…

I did the only thing I could do. I refused to sign the letter.

Not because I didn’t agree with what was written inside it. Not because I didn’t want change in my rapidly declining workplace. And certainly not because I was afraid of the consequences of that letter (which, at the time, looked like it was going to be industrial action). No. I refused to sign that letter because it looked like a five-year-old had written it.

I could see the hours that had gone into writing something like that letter. The expertly crafted words and sentences. The well-placed and argued points. It was a beauty of a letter in that respect. But, man, why the author didn’t run it through spell check or get someone to proofread it for them, I will never know.

I realise that anyone who isn’t the best speller or doesn’t always remember the difference between a comma or a full stop is probably thinking I’m a total grammar snob at this point. I’ll be honest, I am a bit! But I also don’t always get it right. Sometimes I use the wrong word or spell something incorrectly and I NEVER know when to use a semicolon. But these are exciting and modern times. We live in a world where we can run our documents and words through spell check, or awesome apps like Grammarly, to make sure we’re doing things right.

The thing is, when you’re writing important words – letters to fight for a pay rise, for instance; (ah-ha) or a complaint letter to a person in a position of power – if what you say is full of typos, spelling errors and glaring grammatical flubs, how on earth do you ever expect to be taken seriously?

This is a discussion I have with my husband all the time. He writes some of the best complaint letters I’ve ever seen. When the man is angry, he’s a match for no one as he wields his laptop and finger-wags all over the place. But he bloody LOVES a comma. A comma here, a comma there, a comma, fucking, everywhere. Ha! THAT was fun. And so he writes his letters, but what happens then is I take the letter and I make it RIGHT. With his ability to quote policy and procedure and my penchant for, ya know, writing words proper… what comes out is a black, sticky mess too dark for even the Upside Down. And man, that is POWERFUL.

But that’s letters and stuff. How does this even relate to your business?

Well, guys, I know I’m biased, so I did a Google search and there IS evidence out there that suggests more than half the visitors to your website will be put off by bad spelling and grammar. More than half! That’s an obscene statistic that can easily be reduced by doing a few things before you hit publish on your next blog post…

Before you start…

Write your post in a program like Word, or Google Docs. Basically anywhere that does a spelling and grammar check while you’re writing. Install Grammarly (there’s a free option!) which will also point out basic errors to you. Use the tools available to you. It makes life much easier.

Hear the words

I know you hate me when I say your words should be read out loud. But hearing them spoken usually highlights one or two obvious errors – a full stop in the wrong place or a typo which replaces one word with another so a spell checker won’t pick it up. Like if I write ‘sit’ instead of ‘its’. I am ALWAYS doing that! Now, this doesn’t mean you have to get someone else to read them for you. Did you know, on Word, there’s a handy tool that reads your writing out to you? I know, I only just discovered this too!

Change medium

There’s nothing like seeing your words in a different format to spot silly little errors. So, print the words off, or paste them into a different style of document (like an email, for example). It also helps to actually go away for a few minutes or a day and then come back and re-read again. Fresh eyes spot all sorts of silly little errors.

Get help

If you’re unsure that you’ve spotted everything, then enlist a friend or relative to read through and point out any errors. It helps if they can spell and know the basic rules of grammar too 😉

No one is perfect

Even doing all this, mistakes do sometimes happen and that’s ok! Just the other day I spied a glaring typo in a blog post I’d published six months ago. Meh. What are you gonna do?

dictionary page

By going through these actions, you’ll reduce the number of typos you put out there into the ether. Your work is gonna look professional, sharp and oh so good. People are going to take what you say a lot more seriously. And that’s definitely all good, don’t you think?

I am TOTALLY expecting someone to email me now and tell me there’s a mistake in this blog post. Drop a comment below if you find anything or just want to tell me what you think!