What We Think
of a wordaholic
There is nothing more embarrassing than misspelling someone's name or mixing up "there," "their" and "they're" — and then not noticing it until after your brochure comes back from press. So, I'm just going to come out and say it: Spelling and grammar are incredibly important.
As an industry, we must start paying attention to detail. With each typo, your credibility plunges. You’d rather your annual report be remembered for its flawless content than your errors, right? Thought so.
Nerd alert: I actually like grammar and spelling. In fact, I’ll be live streaming the National Spelling Bee today. I’m not an expert, but I know when to ask questions and where to find the answers.
Not everyone loved English class, though. And that’s fine — we all have our quirks. But you can show us grammarians you appreciate ours. If you’re sending your writing to anyone outside your company, like a client or a vendor, you better be paying attention to this stuff. Here are a few simple ways you can do so — and simultaneously save yourself from a major spelling or grammar faux pas.
1. Spell check. It’s a simple thing, but you’d be surprised how many things I read in which it’s clear no one double-clicked those obnoxious red zigzags. Run spell check. I beg you.
2. Look up names. Always check the spelling of names. Simply don’t misspell them; aspire to be better than the average Starbucks barista. (Trust me on this: There are a gazillion ways to screw up “Susannah.”) Also, Google someone’s gender if they have a unisex name like Taylor, Sam or Alex. Never assume.
3. Ask a human. Always show your writing to another person or two. Even if they’re not grammar experts, they might catch missing words or other typos your computer missed. Also, get them to check your facts while they’re at it, because your computer can’t. If there’s no one around, read your writing aloud — slowly. You’ll be surprised what you catch.
4. Keep references handy. Whether you have a dictionary on your desk or your desktop, use it. It never hurts to make sure you’re using the correct form of stationery/stationary. (To clarify: Stationery is for writing letters. Being stationary means you’re staying still.)
I also recommend the Associated Press Stylebook: This journalist’s bible shares the AP’s rules on spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation and word and numeral usage. Both the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style (another option) offer online subscriptions. It doesn’t matter which stylebook you use, as long as you use one and stick to it.
5. Make an effort to learn. There’s a plethora of great resources out there. Now, it may seem a little pretentious to bury your nose in a grammar book, but you’re only doing yourself a favor. I highly recommend Lynne Truss’ hilarious “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” which gets its title from a geeky joke about pandas and commas.
Also consider listening to the free “Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” podcast in which grammar guru Mignon Fogarty debunks grammar myths, shares tips and breaks down the etymologies of words. Another great reference is E.B. White and William Strunk Jr.’s classic grammar guide, “The Elements of Style.”
Above all, be thorough. If you take the time to learn a little bit about this stuff and make sure your piece is edited well, you’ll not only become a better writer, but you’ll also save your company (and yourself) from embarrassment.