When browsing the web, reading a brochure, or consuming any other written communication, how bothered are you by the grammar? Or, more accurately, by the correctness of the grammar?
By “grammar”, I’m talking about more than the dictionary definition that mentions syntax – the structure or arrangement of words and phrases. Yes, I’m including typos, spelling mistakes and incorrect (or absent) punctuation too. And, given that definition, consider this: does a spelling mistake, misplaced letter or absent comma get your goat? Or, worse still (for the message-provider), make you think less of them; distrust them, even?
The answer to either question appears to be a matter of opinion, as well as context. We’ll all forgive such things in an email or text message from a friend (and if we can’t, we probably don’t have that many friends anyway). But what if the mistake-ridden message is on a business website? Or in a sales letter from a charity or other organisation?
Are you more inclined to disbelieve the facts that have been presented within the content? Do the errors make the company appear less credible and/or capable? Are you less likely to act upon the message (in the way the writer/ organisation would like you to)?
Having Googled for statistics about the importance of grammar and its impact (upon reputation, sales and other criteria), it’s clear that there’s not much research into this area – or little that’s published, anyway. It could be that firms are doing A/B tests with correct versus incorrect grammar to see if it makes a difference to whether someone clicks or buys… but if they are, it’s not in the public domain as far as I can see.
So, that leaves us with our gut-instinct and/or personal experience. Of a certain age (i.e. I was taught grammar and spelling at school) and a professional copywriter, I have to admit to being swayed by poor grammar – in a negative way.
While acknowledging that we all make mistakes, and that language is constantly evolving, I also happen to believe that businesses should ensure they check and correct their writing before publication. Firstly, it shows they care and that they’re diligent. Secondly, it supports clear communication – a text riddled with errors isn’t as easy to read as the same message that’s been proofed and amended so that it’s grammatically correct.
Checking your work
So, as well as spell-and-grammar checking your texts, you should also print them off and read them out loud – so that you can hear the mistakes (and/or get someone else to do it). Then, you should proof-read them, looking at each word in turn, from the end of the doc backwards. Yes, from the end of the piece back towards the start. Doing it that way stops your brain from assuming what’s likely to come next, and therefore allows you to spot missing words.
It’s pain-staking work but, I’d argue, worth it. Getting it right won’t offend anybody, while getting it wrong may do.
However, if you’d like an alternative to all that hard work… hire a copywriter 😉
If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response. We consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message, its Architecture (structure; logical flow) and Grammar – as defined above – plus Eloquence and Style.
As SU points out “no one expects a customer service representative to write like Shakespeare… [but] they should be expected to fully spell out words, to use punctuation appropriately, to be able to use the right “your”, to know the difference between than and then… and so on.”
Why? Because bad spelling, grammar and punctuation in support forums, emails and texts can encourage customers to lose confidence in your services and your ability to help. Naturally, this also applies to your marketing communications and other messages sent by your company.
So how can you stop it from happening?
1) Make good spelling and grammar part of your admissions criteria and ask job applicants to do a test, either at interview or as a pre-qualification. Here’s an example test from Kent Uni.
2) Encourage staff to write in MS Word (or any other word processing package) first, and to use the Spelling and Grammar function to check the work. Once that’s done, they can cut and paste it into the email or other software application.
3) Do random checks on any outbound emails, letters, texts and chat forums to make sure it’s not happening regularly (of course, there will be mistakes from time to time).
4) Use online resources (here’s an example) that highlight common mistakes, to help your team eliminate them from their work.
5) Hire a copywriter to train your staff in more effective, error-free writing.
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