I am a self-professed grammar geek. I love how grammar puts writing and speech in order; properly used words can shape ideas, lay them out neatly, and become powerful on their own.
At the same time, I understand how grammar’s finicky rules and complexity frustrate many. Producing fresh, relevant on-line content is usually a hurried series of writes and edits, and talking points and pull-quotes may take precedence over finely crafted sentences and paragraphs.
But good grammar should still win the day. Here’s why: Correctly used grammar illuminates your ideas, sells your products or services, and gets people talking about you. Incorrectly used grammar highlights only the mistakes, and the content—the meaning and passion that adds spark to the words–is lost.
Imagine that grammar is electricity, something we count on to support our accomplishments over the course of a day (and night!). When our electricity is functioning, we don’t notice it; electricity is a “silent partner” that works for us. We can easily work, do chores, play, or relax.
When the electricity is on the fritz, however, we’re anxious. Will the food in the fridge spoil? Will our home or office get too hot or too cold? Will our computer battery last? Will our phone run out of charge? How will this impact our ability to get things done?
Good grammar can pave the way for your content to shine. But what, exactly, do I mean by “good grammar”?
Here’s a basic list of standards that should apply to all content:
Technically its own category, separate from grammar, misspellings can easily distract your readers from good content.
Properly used punctuation
Commas, semi-colons and apostrophes are frequently misused on-line.
Nouns and pronouns must match their verbs.
Words should make sense in context and be the right part of speech (noun, adjective, adverb, etc.).
If you need help, on-line guides for grammar are available from many different sources, including Grammar Girl, Oxford Dictionaries (the “Better Writing” section) and Life Hack. For tongue-in-cheek warnings against grammar gaffes, Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal has a series of on-line comics that explain much of what you need to know.
But sometimes there isn’t a single right answer for grammar conundrums, especially due to spelling or punctuation conventions that vary among countries or even different resources (such as The Chicago Manual of Style versus the Associated Press). In my next post, we’ll talk about the importance of creating a style guide…and sticking to it.