How to Do a Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar Check
In a world of text-speak and emoticons, should content marketers still be concerned with proper grammar? The online business world is developing an increasingly laid-back attitude toward language, and content marketing is becoming more informal and conversational. Does it really matter if you know your colon from your semicolon these days?
The short answer is yes. Digital marketing has opened up scope for using slang or casual language with the right audience, but language use still matters to consumers. Here we talk through the reasons to conduct a punctuation, spelling and grammar check whenever you publish content online, and how to do it.
Let’s begin with the reasons to be on point with your grammar, spelling and punctuation.
REASON 1: Incorrect use of language can give completely the wrong message
Incorrect punctuation, grammar or spelling can change the meaning of your sentence entirely. Author Lynne Truss illustrates this point perfectly with the title of her book, Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. The title comes from a joke in which a panda enters a bar, eats a sandwich and then shoots a gun into the air. When the barman asks him what he’s doing, he throws down a book and growls: ‘This is a badly punctuated wildlife manual. Look me up.’ The barman opens the book, and under ‘PANDA’ it reads: ‘Large, black-and-white, bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.’
If you want to while away a few hours, you’ll find the internet is burning with brilliant examples of language bloopers. Here are just a few:
REASON 2: Consumers judge businesses on their use of language
Gaffes like those above raise a chuckle or a shake of the head when used as examples. But, when marketing your business, mistakes cost money. A survey conducted by Disruptive Communications asked a thousand UK consumers what they dislike about brands they follow on social media. Nearly half of the respondents cited poor spelling and grammar. Badly written posts reduce a brand’s credibility and customer confidence, which in turn damages the bottom line. If you lack attention to detail in your writing, how can a customer trust that you will be thorough in other areas of your business? When it comes to marketing and company image, it’s vital to get It right.
REASON 3: Mistakes make your writing hard to read and detract from your message
The online reader craves information that is easy to find and to digest. When a blog post or web page is littered with typos or poorly constructed sentences, it’s hard to read. Your audience should never have to work at understanding what you’re trying to say. Give it to them on a plate with clear, concise and correctly expressed language. This will help with search engine optimisation too. Search engine algorithms are paying more and more attention to how readable content is.
10 common errors to watch out for:
Alot/a lot - Alot’ is not a word; use ‘a lot’.
Could/would/should - Many people say, ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’. ‘Could’ve’ is the contracted form of ‘could have’ rather than ‘could of’. The same applies to ‘would’ and ‘should’.
Effect/affect - ‘Effect’ (noun) refers to the result or cause: ‘She knew the bread had an effect on her digestive system.’ ‘Affect’ (verb) is the act of having an influence on something: ‘The weather affected their plans.’
Misplaced apostrophes - Apostrophes indicate possession and contracted words. They are never used to make a word a plural. Write ‘in the 1980s’ not ‘in the 1980’s’. ‘You’re’ is the contracted form of ‘you are’. ‘Your’ indicates belonging: ‘It is your ball.’
It’s/its - An apostrophe is only used to contract ‘it is’ and not to indicate possession - an exception to the rule!
Then/than - ‘Then’ indicates something following something else in time: ‘We will go there then.’ ‘Than’ is used in comparisons: ‘It costs more than that.
There/their/they’re - Use ‘their’ to indicate possession: ‘It’s their ball.’ ‘They’re’ is the contracted form of ‘they are’: ‘They’re going to Paris.’ Use ‘there’ when it’s incorrect to use ‘they’re’ and ‘their’!
Referring to a brand as ‘they’ - A business is singular and not plural. Therefore, a business is ‘it’ and not ‘they’.
Semicolons - Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses that could stand on their own but are closely related: ‘Ring me tomorrow; I’ll talk to you then.’ Here each clause could be a sentence in itself, but it makes sense to join them together. If there is a conjunction between the two clauses like ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘or’ use a comma instead.
Who/that - When describing an object use ‘that’; when referring to a person use ‘who’.
How to conduct a thorough punctuation, spelling and grammar check
STEP 1: Use computer software
Word-processing software such as Microsoft Word and Apple Pages come with built-in document review tools, and there are some fantastic free online tools such as Grammarly and Hemmingway Editor. These are great for doing a first pass check and can help you to develop your writing style.
STEP 2: Do a read through
Don’t rely on software to catch every mistake. Nothing beats reading your work aloud to yourself or to a willing listener. If the words don’t flow, it’s probably due to incorrect punctuation or sentence structure.
STEP 3: Use a proofreader
It’s very difficult to proofread your own work as your brain sees the words that you intended to write, even if you didn’t actually write them! Get someone who knows their stuff to check your document, or if you can afford it, hire a proofreader.
Can bad grammar ever be good?
Yes. When it comes to writing creative copy, sometimes it’s good to break the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling. But you have to understand the rules before you can flout them for effect.
Remember the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign? It would be more correct to say: ‘Do you have any milk?’ but that’s dry and boring. ‘Got Milk?’ is catchy, memorable and achieves its aim – selling more milk.
As Pablo Picasso said: ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’