04 Dec 2008

A Rant On Grammar, Spelling and SEO

Every so often on Twitter (and in life) I find myself in a debate with familiar faces who like to argue with me that grammar and spelling and punctuation are highly-overrated.  They think that they can write how they write and that it is your job to decipher where a new sentence starts, what word they meant to type, and what parts of a phrase they inexplicably left out. I tend to disagree, but before I get into that, let me get a few things out of the way.

  • I am not an elitist grammar snob. My grammar isn’t nearly good enough for that.
  • I don’t think misspelling words or failing to punctuate properly means that you are uneducated/stupid/ignorant/not worth my time.
  • I don’t think that I am better than you because writing is something I have a small degree of talent in.
  • I realize that if everyone suddenly wrote really well, I’d probably be out of a job. So I should actually be thankful for €˜sentences’ and Twitters that read, “lol HA Ha going 2 gym dinner with friends party!” and shut up.

But I’m not going to shut up. Because I genuinely do feel that grammar and spelling are important. In fact, I think they’re vital.

And it’s not vital because you need to abide by archaic laws laid out by others. It’s not important to write clearly because it shows how smart you are. It’s important because people need to understand you. That’s what it’s about for me. It’s about creating content that is readable, whatever that content is.

Consider this:

  • I’ve unsubscribed to blogs where the writing made my eyes bleed.
  • I’ve unfollow’d people on Twitter because I wasn’t able to understand what the heck they were saying.
  • I’ve abandoned Web sites because the product details didn’t make sense or didn’t answer my question.

And I guarantee you I’m not the only one. Who else are you driving away?

The people I’ve unfollowed and unsubscribed from weren’t dumb. They were educated, intelligent, useful people. People who, if they spent five seconds to fix their mess, I’d probably find were saying some pretty important things. However, I’ll never know because I can’t understand what they meant because all I see is a jumbling of characters and halves of phrases. Even when I take the time to really figure out what they meant, I’m left guessing. I don’t want to have to guess.

If you have something to say, I want to hear it. Make sure that I do.

As I commented on Twitter yesterday, if you’re going to produce content, you have a responsibility to produce valuable content. Otherwise, what the heck are you doing? The greatest idea, horribly stated, goes nowhere. Trust me; I understand the power of voice.

For me, when someone throws up a piece of content that they clearly haven’t read over and is so jumbled that people can’t understand it €“ I think it’s disrespectful. They’re telling me that they didn’t care enough to fix it. I know that not everyone is skilled in grammar and spelling, but most of us aren’t completely illiterate either. You recognize that what you typed doesn’t make sense; you just don’t care enough to fix it. It’s not worth your time. I’m not worth your time. If that’s the case, okay, but I’ll be over here finding someone who does care about me.

There are plenty of arguments for why spelling and grammar are important €“ mistakes are distracting, they make people question your authority, you look unprofessional €“ but to me respect is really the biggest one.  As someone who produces content on a daily basis, I respect it. I respect the people that I write content for. I don’t have perfect grammar. I’m not the greatest speller in the world, but I self-edit things.  And even if they’re not perfect, it makes the content readable (er, usually).

I don’t care what you’re writing. I don’t care if it’s content for your Web site, if it’s a Twitter message (though we all flub those from time to time), a Sphinn description, etc. If you’re writing for an audience, you should respect that audience. You should respect that audience by making your content as readable as possible. Regardless of whether or not you graduated from school with an English, Business or Chemistry degree.

  • Read your Twitters before you send them (simple typos are forgivable).
  • Take pride in the content you put on your Web site.
  • Make sure that people are getting the message you’re putting out in blog posts.

You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be understood. That’s all I’m asking.