Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a word nerd. It's an occupational hazard. But even if you don’t earn your living as a scribe, the quality of your promotional copy makes a difference. Sloppy writing says, “I’m unprofessional,” and reflects poorly on your brand.
I’m not talking only about flagrant abuses of the English language. Sometimes, it’s the little things that trip people up. Take, for example, this blog post’s headline. If you were to use it as it currently stands, your mother’s life would be in grave danger, but if you added a comma between “eat” and “Mom,” that punctuation mark would signal a pause that lets the reader know you are addressing your relative and inviting her to break bread with you, instead of accidentally (one hopes) rallying the troops to nosh on her limbs. (Imagine the years of guilt she could inflict on you for that misstep. “You never call. You never write. You encourage cannibals to consume your own mother.” Extensive therapy ensues.)
What’s the big deal, you ask? Only a stickler cares about such small mistakes.
Maybe. Maybe not. A lot depends on the audience and the context for the blunder. About five years ago, I attended a press event with several other food and beverage writers. Among them was an engaging young reporter who billed herself as a wine expert. Before saying goodbye, we exchanged business cards. The first part of her email address featured a play on the name of a well-known variety of wine grape. Clever, right? The only problem was that she’d spelled the word wrong.
Remember, this was her EMAIL ADDRESS, an account she used daily for professional purposes and one that she had printed on her business cards—the same cards she passed out to editors from whom she was seeking story assignments. If, in my former life as a magazine editor, I’d received a story idea from her that contained that same error in the body of the email, I might have overlooked it, assuming that the rest of her pitch was solid and well written. We’re all human, and we all make typos. But embedding the misspelling into her actual email address? If she couldn’t even master something so basic, I’d be asking myself how much of an “expert” she really was. What kind of reporting would she deliver were I to send her out on assignment?
In this age of instantaneous thumb-driven communication, filled with acronyms and serial-killer-like shorthand (“Ill look 4 u after work. LOL.”), many people have become complacent about proper use of the English language. Even the folks at Merriam-Webster have gone off the deep end, declaring last month that “literally” may now also be used to mean “figuratively,” its exact opposite (a decision I plan to ignore until I am literally without breath). But there are still potential clients and audiences who care about such things—people for whom attention to detail matters.
Good writing is about more than just choosing the right words and using them correctly.
Good writing shows your reader that you’ve made the effort to explain yourself precisely, which in my book is a sign of respect. When your writing is clear and grammatically correct, you’re telling your audience, “I’ve spent time and energy on this because I want to make a good impression. Your opinion matters to me.” Who doesn’t want to hear that?
One last bit of advice: Have someone you trust proof your copy before it goes live. Even professionals err, which is why my business partners, Elizabeth and Paula, review my blogs before I post them here. The longer you stare at your own words, the harder it is to spot the mistakes. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to avoid simple gaffes, but you shouldn’t rely solely on spellcheck and auto-correct (which once suggested I change “not by a long shot” to “not by a longshoreman”). A computer won’t always detect incorrect usage—like writing “its” in place of “it’s”—if you’ve spelled the word correctly.
Take the time to get it right, because you’re (you are) way too smart to let your brand (the one that belongs to you) look foolish.