This guest post is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash
As a blogger, you expect your readers to give you their valuable time that they could be spending elsewhere. If you’re going to ask that much of them, don’t they deserve your best effort in return?
When your posts are loaded with spelling and grammar mistakes, you’re telling your readers one or both of two things:
- I can’t be bothered to learn the language I’ve chosen to communicate in.
- My content is so vital and compelling that its form is unimportant.
Democratization has its advantages, and alas, its drawbacks. 572 years ago, Johann Gutenberg was the only person on Earth who could have his words disseminated en masse. (And even he was but the messenger, merely spreading others’ divinely inspired works.) Today, anyone with a Return key and an opinion can search for an audience. Does that mean that you deserve one?
Look at the most popular blogs, the ones with critical acclaim, and/or a large readership. Technorati lists The Huffington Post, Hot Air, several members of the Gawker family, Mashable and TechCrunch among its top 20. Even the inane TMZ is on the list. Regardless of how you feel about left-wing politics, right-wing politics, general snarkiness, social media news, technology or the lives of celebrities, all the blogs on the list have something in common that also-ran blogs don’t.
Proper, comprehensible English, delivered in sentences that you don’t have to reread to make sense of. In 2011, with so much of the world’s knowledge available to any of us, it’s astounding that there exist bloggers who’ve advanced past adolescence yet still don’t know that plurals don’t take apostrophes.
When I decry this (I’m the kind of person who thinks that Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson deserve their own Nobel Prize category), I’m often met with the standard responses. These fall into three categories:
- I didn’t have time.
- Who cares?
- (No response at all.)
In other words, correct English isn’t that important. My one-word response to that is: garbage.
Unlike most topics of debate, there’s no room for difference of opinion on this one. People on the other side of this issue are like those who defend flat earth theory or who argue that thiomersal causes autism. There’s no reasoning with them. To disagree here is to say that sloppiness and ignorance are of no consequence. That insulting your readers is fine. That the rules of discourse don’t apply to you.
If your defence is that you’re not some fancy-pants academic who obsesses over a set of archaic rules about how to communicate, maybe you should find something to do that doesn’t involve words.
One irony is that non-native English speakers are behind some of the most grammatically sound (and thus most readable) blogs out there. Take Aloysa of Aloysa’s Kitchen Sink. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear she’d been writing in and speaking English her whole life. English is her third language, after Lithuanian and Russian. I’d cite examples of the opposite, native English speakers who each write like a cat walking on a keyboard, but they’re easy to find. Besides, I made enough enemies with my last ProBlogger post.
My site, Control Your Cash, hosts the weekly Carnival of Wealth. It’s a blog carnival in which I showcase what are ostensibly the best and most thought-provoking personal finance articles of the prior seven days. I need about 30 entrants for the carnival to be of a decent length. If I limited entry to those who spell and punctuate correctly, even if they had nothing interesting to say about their subject of choice, I’d be lucky to run three posts a week. The carnival would be less of a carnival and more of a quiet evening playing chess at the library.
I’m not talking about being able to articulate the difference between the pluperfect progressive tense and the ablative case. I’m talking about, at a minimum, activating and using the spelling and grammar features that come with MS Word, or Apple Pages, or whichever word processor you create your magic with. If you don’t know that you need to do this, then you almost certainly do. No thought is so profound that it can’t benefit from the right presentation. If you can think it and type it out, then you can spend a few minutes making it readable before you decide to unleash it on the universe.
This isn’t about you. It almost never is. It’s about your customers, i.e. your readers. They’re literate enough to have navigated their way to your site, and deserve to be written to in a clear, syntactically correct manner. Otherwise, why should they care about what you have to say?
Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (Kindle) and reach Greg at greg@ControlYourCash.com.(physical) or