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Spelling and Grammar: More Than Just a Squiggly Red Line

The modern era of the Internet is a postmodern anthropologist‘s dream: everyone has a voice, contributing to the grand scheme of our culture, both local and global. We’ve progressed from the “look at me” early days of LiveJournal and the Open Diary to full-blown social media integration. From the quick quips of Twitter to branded, lengthy WordPress blogs (like this one!) to primarily pictorial modes of social media like Instagram, it’s undeniable that there is a need in our culture to connect to a network, to read and feel read.

Take a trip to your local search engine or news site and you’ll see that blogs are being regarded as reputable sources of information, a far cry from their humble “here’re my favorite bands” beginnings. For us Internet folk, keeping a blog is an integral part of our hire-ability; blogs give potential employers a glimpse of our personalities as well as show that we know what goes on under the hood.

But this post isn’t a sprawling love letter to social media. No, this post is far nit-pickier than that.

Grammar Nazis Unite!

This post is meant to be an open letter to those bloggers whose posts are being regarded as expert advice, as well as any designer or developer who is commissioned to put a personal touch in a design.

Using proper grammar and correct spelling is more than just a way to lord your “intelligence” over others or scratch your OCD itch à la minute. It is a courtesy to your readers, evidence that you took the time and care to pick through your thoughts and make sure everything is in working order before unleashing it on the interwebs.

The benefits of fine-tooth-combing blog posts are manifold.

Proofreading your content makes it easier to digest; spelling and grammar errors foul up your readers’ attention spans like expired milk does your tum-tum. A simple sweep through or preview, or even reading on a different device, can help you pick out sticky areas that will keep your message from hitting home.

Typing with abandon and waiting for the squiggly red line to appear is a great way to start writing a post. Once that initial mind dump is over, however, the entry must be further honed and whittled to give it depth, power, and true substance. Too involved?  Go write a tweet.

Best Tools for the Job

Time. Strangely, the best thing you can do for your writing (any creative endeavor, actually) is to get it all out there and walk away. Save a draft, get up, and walk around. Talk to the other humans. Let what you just wrote knock around in your head a bit. Oftentimes, you’ll come up with a better, more concise way to say what you’ve written or a new idea may surface that your post just can’t live without. What happens when that time gets in the way of the immediacy of your wordings? Good thing you saved that draft.

School. Odds are if you’re taking the time to carefully craft blog entries, you’ve paid attention in school. Remember what your teachers taught you when you pick back through your entry. If something seems awkward or you can’t imagine reading a sentence out loud (also a great writing tool), it’s probably wrong. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on the basics, either. I have a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style that has followed me around since time immemorial. And you know what? It fits in your pocket. Coincidence?

Friends. Getting many different opinions about your writing will reveal much more than just spelling and grammar errors. Have others read through your posts before they’re live. You may find that sticky grammar mars the meaning of your post in ways you couldn’t’ve thought. If your friends got a different meaning from your post, your audience will too.

Thinking Beyond the Red Line

The auto spell check functionality built in to most browsers and operating systems has been a huge step forward towards  effective content on the Internet (although some still choose to ignore it). The red line left click should not be your only method of checking a post. What happens when you spell the word correctly but it’s the wrong word?

The spell check script and corresponding database cannot tell you which word you meant to write (or put in a word you left out). The only thing you can do to prevent such embarrassing mistakes is to diligently proofread your posts. Well, maybe not the only thing.

After the Deadline is an open source contextual spelling, style, and grammar checker, free for all to use! It comes as a Firefox add-on, a Chrome extension, and is included in WordPress’ Jetpack plugin. Awesome as this may be, it appears that errors can only be detected and corrected after publishing your post. There are no Get Out of Grammar Free cards.

Content is king. No designer, developer, or blogger should go through the trouble of setting up and customizing a blog just to put grammatically incorrect posts out into the world. Whether it’s a personal blog or one you maintain for a client, your credibility is on the line.

Remember what I said a couple posts ago about how if design is done well, the user cannot tell the product was designed at all? So it is with spelling and grammar. Your readers will happily consume and digest your content… until that first ugly error rears its head.

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