Author: Jim Schnetz, Digital Copy Editor
The importance of using good grammar was introduced to me at a very early age by my mother, an English teacher who would correct my mistakes in the notes I left her on the kitchen table. Creating a good first impression was a lesson I learned from my dad, who used to stress how critical that was to becoming successful.
So many years and so many red pencil-edited notes later, those two lessons have stayed with me. First impressions are, indeed, important. And using proper grammar is a major contributor to creating great ones.
So forgive me for turning into Mom and Dad, but I feel just as passionate as my parents about the role that good grammar plays in creating good individual and business success. I’ll provide some information gathered from various posts, give examples of the most common grammar mistakes and offer suggestions on how to avoid making them.
Don’t Stain Your Image with Sloppy Copy
You wouldn’t show up for a job interview with a noticeable grease stain on your shirt or blouse. And you wouldn’t submit a résumé that had spelling or punctuation mistakes. How you dress and your grammar and spelling are first impressions you can’t get back.
Sharing my opinion is Kyle Wiens, who owns iFixit – the world’s largest online repair manual. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, he writes that he simply won’t hire a person who uses poor grammar. Why is Wiens so obsessed with grammar? He writes that good grammar is a sign of professional credibility, attention to detail and learning ability: “If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use it’s, then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.”
Another CEO, Brad Hoover of Grammarly, the automated proofreading site, agrees. He is quoted in an article entitled “Is Bad Grammar the Great Career Killer?” as saying “good grammar is instrumental in conveying ideas with clarity, professionalism, and precision” and suggesting “good grammar is a predictor of professional success.”
Bad Grammar Is Bad for Business
As instrumental as proper grammar is to an individual’s success, it’s even more important to the success of ad agencies such as The Richards Group. A presentation to a prospective client with one or more misspelled words could not only cost an agency that client’s business, but it could also tarnish its reputation and ruin its credibility.
Carly Stec, staff writer for HubSpot, writes in a blog post, “One of the easiest ways to discount your business’ credibility is to fall victim of spelling errors and poor grammar. If your content is plagued by poor grammar, it’s likely that people will think twice about the quality of your services. Bad grammar can denounce the subject matter of your content, and ultimately distract your audience. All it takes is one their vs. there mix-up to detract from your business’ credibility and overall message.”
Grammar, spelling and punctuation errors get noticed, as in these examples:
- A billboard for Miller Genuine Draft with the headline: “A tasty contraditcion.”
- A poster featuring swimsuit models with the headline: “You’ve never seen body’s like this!”
- An ad for creative kids’ software that reads: “So Fun, They Won’t Even Know Their Learning”
The list goes on and on. For more examples, check these out:
- 11 Embarrassing Spelling and Grammar Mistakes from Brands
- 16 of the Worst Typos, Grammatical Errors & Spelling Mistakes We’ve Ever Seen
- Grammar Mistakes in Advertising
This applies to websites, too, of course. A poll conducted by Standing Dog Interactive showed that 58% of consumers are “somewhat” or “very” annoyed by misspellings and/or typos in content on websites they visit.
It should go without saying, then, that creating clean copy is imperative to all of us.
Commonly Misused Words Get You Noticed – in a Bad Way
There are things I notice as a proofreader that people have trouble with, words that are either misspelled or misused. I’ve put together a checklist of those words for a handy reference.
There, Their, They’re – “There” refers to a place. “Their” is the possessive pronoun. “They’re” is a contraction for “they are.”
Then, Than – “Then” is mainly an adverb, often used to indicate time or consequence. “Than” is a conjunction, used mainly to indicate a comparison.
To, Too, Two – “To” is a preposition that begins a prepositional phrase or an infinitive. “Too” is an adverb meaning “excessively” or “also.” “Two” is a number.
Your, You’re – “Your” is the second-person possessive, used to describe something as belonging to you. “You’re” is a contraction for “you are.”
Its, It’s – “Its” indicates possessive. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.”
Accept, Except – “Accept” is a verb that means to admit or approve; to receive. “Except” can be a preposition that means “excluding” or a conjunction that means “other than.” It can also be a verb that means “to leave out, exclude.”
Affect, Effect – “Affect” as a verb means to influence. “Effect” as a verb means to cause or bring about. “Effect” as a noun means result.
Lose, Loose – “Lose” is a verb meaning to suffer a loss; fail to keep or maintain; cease to have. “Loose” is mainly an adjective used to describe things that are not tightly fitted.
Farther, Further – “Farther” refers to physical distance or length. “Further” should be used for figurative distance or to discuss degree or extent.
Using these words properly will certainly help eliminate embarrassing mistakes. So will avoiding writing too fast and making sure you reread your copy when you are done. Time spent on proofreading your work is time well spent.
Here are some other tips you can use to keep your copy clean:
Read your copy aloud – Pronounce each word slowly and clearly. Some errors are more easily heard.
Give yourself time – Don’t rush or skim through the process. Haste makes waste.
Use spellcheck – Before you begin proofreading, run spellcheck as a first screening for typos. However, don’t rely totally on this; use it as a fail-safe.
Read it backwards – As strange as it may sound, starting from the end forces you to focus on spelling.
Step away and revisit – Once you’ve finished writing, give yourself some time away from the copy to clear your mind. You’ll be able to spot mistakes much easier when you return to it.
Double-check proper names – Look through your notes and/or do a Google search.
Double-check little words – You’d be surprised how often “or,” “of,” “it” and “is” are interchanged.
Employ a second set of eyes – It’s easy to overlook your own mistakes. You’re used to writing words a certain way and punctuating sentences the same every time, so you don’t realize that you’re making a mistake.
That last tip is the most important. It should not be skipped. In most cases, those eyes will belong to a proofreader such as myself, who will make sure it is clean, accurate and worthy of creating a great first – and lasting – impression. And if you get it back with your mistakes circled in red pencil, well, you have my mom to thank for that!
- Wiens, Kyle. “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” Harvard Business Review, July 20, 2012.
- Kiisel, Ty. “Is Bad Grammar the Great Career Killer?” Deseret News, March 6, 2013.
- Klara, Robert. “Bad Grammar Are Bad for Branding. Why Is Marketing Becoming Increasingly Illiterate?” Adweek, May 9, 2014.
- Stec, Carly. “11 Embarrassing Spelling and Grammar Mistakes from Brands.” HubSpot Blogs, June 10, 2015.
- Soskey, Ginny. “16 of the Worst Typos, Grammatical Errors & Spelling Mistakes We’ve Ever Seen.” HubSpot Blogs, July 17, 2015.
- Grammar Mistakes in Advertising. Google.