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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

Didn’t Get the Gig? Maybe It’s ‘Cause Ur Illiterate

Written By: Catherine Morgan | 49 Comments

Today, I am grateful to Carol because I can rant in a non-coachy-feely way, and with a tone that might not be appropriate for my company blog. Today’s rant is brought to you by laziness and sloppiness, two demons running rampant in the online world.

Let me set the stage for you. I have some minor vision and dyslexia issues. Strangely enough, I also am a strong writer and have frequently held jobs where I was paid well to write. Here’s the thing: I literally can’t see certain types of errors sometimes. But I know this, so I manage against it. I read everything AT LEAST three times – e-mails, blog posts, whatever. I read it out loud. And I have other people copyedit for me if it is something important.

I am still fuming from a call I had with my mentorship group recently. Michael Port was talking about being authentic in your copy and letting your true voice and quirks shine through. Let’s have high-fives all around! I couldn’t agree more. But somehow, following rules of grammar got bashed and trivialized in the conversation too. I took offense to this. 

Let me explain. I completely agree that blog writing and certain kinds of copy writing can bend the rules of formal grammar – and maybe even should – to create a feeling. We often use sentence fragments, extra punctuation, and other tricks to make it sound like we are actually talking to the reader. I am all good with that. In fact, we have some specific language around that for the guest post guidelines for this blog:

 “Editing: We reserve the right to copyedit for style, etc. and we will only send drafts back for approval if materially changed. Please note that blog writing is more casual than other types of writing and we may occasionally bend some grammar rules.”

Nobody likes the grammar police who come in and do a “swoop and poop” on the copy that you poured your heart and soul into, and took you hours to write. We have all experienced that and it hurts your feelings. It hurts mine too.

Here’s the thing. I have read hundreds of drafts for people and for business writing, you can save yourself 80% of your mistakes just by looking for these common mistakes that spell check won’t catch:

  • You, your, you’re
  • There, their, they’re
  • Compliment, complement
  • Complimentary, complementary
  • Advise, advice
  • Build, built
  • Too, to, two
  • Lead, led
  • Though, through
  • Principle, principal

These aren’t “missing a comma” mistakes. They are mistakes that make you look like you slept through high school. I have read posts from very famous people that had so many errors in them that I couldn’t process their message. Don’t be that person.

Be authentic and definitely let your personality come through. But also be professional. Your personal and company brand are on the line with everything that you publish. You want to put your best foot forward. You want to shine! Don’t let this be a block for you. However, know that there IS brand risk when you publish content that is sloppy.

If you know that you are not a strong writer, have someone copyedit for you. Don’t let them edit your tone. Rather, have them only address “fatal flaws.” Be ruthless about that. Your brand is your brand and you should control how you are known in the world. Here endeth the sermon.

So, what do you think? I would love to hear if you agree or disagree. Let’s discuss this in the comments below.

Article written by
Catherine Morgan is the editor of Business Unplugged ™, an engaging speaker, and the founder of Point A to Point B Transitions Inc., a virtual provider of coaching services to individuals who are in business or career transition. Catherine is the author of the eBook Re-Launch You: Discovering Your Point B and Embracing Possibility. An experienced independent consultant and former employee of three of the former Big Five consulting firms, Catherine combines strategy development with accountability coaching. Her productivity tips and career transition advice have been featured on WGN AM 720 and WIND AM 560 The Answer in Chicago, and on WCHE AM 1520 in the Philadelphia area. Catherine speaks frequently on topics related to productivity, career transition, small business, and entrepreneurship. She doesn’t take herself seriously, but takes her subject matter very seriously.
  • philgerb

    Great stuff pointa_pointb  ! If you can’t use the right word, you can’t really call yourself a writer. An occasional typo is not a big deal. Consistent use of loose instead of lose will cause me to loose my mind. 🙂
     
    Seriously – tone matters. Let your freak flag fly and write from your heart. But please take an extra 5 minutes and re-read your content. Does it really make as much sense as you thought it did when you wrote it? I hate to edit myself as much as the next guy – so I have someone (OK several someones) to edit for me – because I don’t want my copy to read like I don’t know the difference between your and you’re. 
     
    Glad you ranted this out there. I’ll be referring my clients to it when they give me some excuse why they don’t proof their work or won’t pay someone to do it for them.

  • Hi Catherine, Excellent post, and I agree with you 100%, if not more. Believe it or not, there are still a lot of business professionals who understand and value proper grammar. Business writers have nothing to gain and everything to lose by ignoring or flouting the rules. Whether or not a particular blog can “get away with” sloppy grammar is beside the point: good writers need to develop good habits. When we hire new writers, I’m amazed by how many applicants send cover letters and resumes that are full of errors. What kind of impression do you think that makes? And in many of these cases, the writers’ primary writing experience is blogging. Food for thought. And by the way, Catherine, you are one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. Your feedback and edits always make my work better. 

  • karenswim

    Hi Catherine, this post made me stand up and cheer! I was talking with a client recently who shared that none of their employees know how to write. In this country we have trivialized our language resorting to text speak and bad grammar even in business situations. Writing does not have to Pulitzer prize quality but for pete’s sake let’s get the basics right! I believe that we should have more pride in our native language, and by a certain age you really should know you/your/you’re, I/me and other BASIC rules.

  • PointA_PointB

     @karenswim Thank you! I couldn’t agree more!

  • PointA_PointB

     @philgerb That is my sincerest hope, Phil. I hope people use this post as a reference! I could add 5-10 more words to the list above and people would catch 95% of the mistakes I see. For the life of my I don’t understand why copy editors aren’t in higher demand. They provide huge value for a modest cost.

  • Yes this does make sense and yet many times I have discovered a mistake months after a post has been online.  How?  By going back to re-share it and add a new note.  The BAM I see it and cuss under my breath.
     
    Not sure about you, but it is not in my budget to pay someone to proof all my blog posts.  So I swallow hard, correct it and move on.

  • PointA_PointB

     @prosperitygal Michele, here’s a trade secret: Those of us without a budget use a friend, client, or relative. For this blog, Carol’s sister Tracey is a good editor – and both she and I read posts before they get published. For my stuff, the important documents get proofed by a client who I give a price break to in return for his editing. He has 30 years of valuable experience and is happy to help.

  • JoniZander

     @karenswim Your second sentence is a perfect example of a correct sentence that most people would butcher.  I was expecting, “I was talking TO a client THAT…” and was so happy to see your version instead.  It is becoming rare indeed.  And the I/me – really people?  The rule on that one is so easy, I don’t understand why people are constantly using I when they should be using me.
     
    Casual is one thing, disregarding basic grammar is quite another.
     

  • Lennie Rose

    As an X and current offender of blog bloopers I hear the ire and defense of words well chosen and well written and think possibly there should be some ground rules for creative license (unless that was just an oxymoron ). 
     
    Rule 1 – MINUS -Stupid and brilliant don’t go together.  Dumb mistakes happen but they diminish the brilliance causing the reader to consider the goof instead of the essence.  Score 1 for detracting.
     
    Rule 1 – PLUS – The reader may think even the most brilliant among us do not value perfection over the relentless bravery of expression. Score 1 for the world being better off for having read flawed copy over not experiencing it at all.
     
    Rule 2 – MINUS – Consistent blunders tarnish brands and insult intelligence. There’s a certain rudeness in disregard.  Period.  Unless you’re David Sedaris or “me likey” Tommy Boy – who have taken the license  to create an entirely new sub-language. 
     
    Rule 3 – Do your best. Really. Or hire a damn editor. If you don’t value your own work or the work you do for your clients enough to proof it, why do it badly? Thank you Catherine for the reminder!
     

  • JoeCascio

    To come back to the title line, I would never hire someone who had grammar and spelling mistakes in their resume or cover letter. They’d go directly to the trash can.

  • PointA_PointB

     @JoeCascio I know. And yet I feel sad about that too. I have sent things with typos accidentally and caught them after – and felt like a total idiot. Once I even spelled the company name wrong. #fail.
     
    It happens to all of us sometimes.

  • PointA_PointB

     @Lennie Rose Fantastic analysis, Lennie! Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment.

  • JoeCascio

     @PointA_PointB Yes, we’ve certainly all been there on one-off emails or blog posts. For really important work, I’ll always ask someone else to proofread. It’s the only way to get it really right, in my experience.

  • PointA_PointB

     @JoeCascio Amen!

  • JoeCascio

     @PointA_PointB  @prosperitygal Yes! A proofreading buddy system. 🙂

  • A-freaking-men!!! I know there is a lot of talk about using text speak or being informal and making it OK to have spelling and grammar mistakes in your writing. And, let’s be real, we all make mistakes. But it’s not OK to not edit your work, not know the difference between words, and not using words correctly. Maybe that makes me a snob, but I’d rather be a well-written snob than not.

  • Ken Carlson

    My grandma Ruth Alvar was a high school english teacher and I come from a family of “pointer-outers.” You know, the people that love to point out when you didn’t technically do it just right. I could be the worst “pointer-outer” of them all. I so love to be right. 
     
    This has made me particularly conscience of my writing–and conscience of other’s writing as well. I especially despise the fatal flaws that you are talking about Catherine. 
     
    I still cringe when I see my nieces and nephews who are in their 20s spell so atrociously that my grandmother would turn over in her grave.
     
    On the other hand, in my desire to move towards a more loving and accepting existence, I want to sit in a place of non-judgement. At a minimum, I want don’t want to sit in a place where I think I am better than someone else. Years of training has taught me that I am right and they are wrong. Technically, maybe I am right but does that make  me better than them?
     
    I think too often I label what someone is doing as incorrect yet I make no effort to lead in that moment. In the future, instead of assuming they are ignorant–I should send them a note letting them know that their writing could show some improvement. This might risk a relationship yet it is exactly the type of feedback I would want from people that care about me. If I come from a place of leading–I think I’ll come alongside people instead of labeling them as incompetent or stupid.
     
    I’m so glad this comment field is so long. I didn’t think I had this much to say about this topic. Thanks Catherine for writing this, I think it spurred something in me about how I view people who make writing mistakes and it helped me work through what I will do on a go forward basis!
     
     
     
     

  • MZazeela

    Catherine – You have touched on some of my pet peeves. Of course, we all make mistakes but misusing words is not a mistake it is a travesty.
     
    When your/you’re copy is written for a broad audience, it is important to be aware of they’re/their feelings about your/you’re style and content.
     
    What is particularly maddening is when the writer is someone in a position of some authority and leadership. If leading by example is one of the necessary qualities, it would seem to be sensible to check one’s work carefully before offering it to the world.
     
    I suppose it is often a case of laziness as much as ignorance and in my opinion, there is no place for either in a good leader.
     
    Cheers,
    Marc

  • PointA_PointB

     @ginidietrich Well said, Gini. It’s fine to sound conversational and current. But I think we need to draw a line somewhere, and it does get harder and harder to even see the differences when we read content that is just plain old wrong day in and day out.

  • PointA_PointB

     @Ken Carlson Really appreciate your sharing your thoughts, Ken. And I really appreciate you 🙂

  • MZazeela

     @ginidietrich In my opinion, “text speak” is just another excuse for being too lazy to get it right. Long live the snobs!

  • Ken Carlson

     @PointA_PointB  @Ken Carlson The thoughts are mutual. Also-thanks for the info on how I misused conscience instead of conscious in my comment. 

  • PointA_PointB

    Here’s a trade secret: Those of us without a budget use a friend, client, or relative. For my stuff, the important documents get proofed by a client who I give a price break to in return for his editing. He has 30 years of valuable experience and is happy to help.

  •  @MZazeela Amen!

  •  @PointA_PointB And read your stuff out loud. You’ll find mistakes you wouldn’t find just by reading the copy.

  • PointA_PointB

     @ginidietrich So true! I do that a lot. (It got me strange looks when I was still in a corporate cube farm…)

  • You forgot the ever-popular its vs it’s.  That’s the most common one I see every day, all over the web, on TV, on signs, everywhere.  Excellent ranty rant!

  • Robert Arbetman

    For additional information on the use of the words shown above, see dictionary.com.
     
    Sometimes it’s not obvious whether we’re talking about a principle or principal.  Dictionary.com offers on-line assistance with these issues.  I keep dictionary.com bookmarked in my “Reference” folder.

  • One other suggestion: Not only have a trusted someone proof your article/blog post for typos, grammar, etc., but ALSO be sure this trusted soul UNDERSTANDS THE CONTENT.  Correcting typos and grammar problems is one thing, but sometimes I “can’t see the forest for the trees.”  By the time I’m done writing, I may be too close to the content to assure that the flow is organized, the thoughts connect, the story makes sense, there’s no industry jargon (or acronyms) that my target audience won’t understand.

  • One other suggestion: Not only have a trusted someone proof your article/blog post for typos, grammar, etc., but ALSO be sure this trusted soul UNDERSTANDS THE CONTENT.  Correcting typos and grammar problems is one thing, but sometimes I “can’t see the forest for the trees.”  By the time I’m done writing, I may be too close to the content to assure that the flow is organized, the thoughts connect, the story makes sense, there’s no industry jargon (or acronyms) that my target audience won’t understand.

  • PointA_PointB

     @rosemaryoneill You are so right! Can’t believe that didn’t get on the list. It’s wrong so much of the time!

  • PointA_PointB

     @Robert Arbetman I consult that, Wikipedia, and Google so many times a day. What I always look up are those old-time sayings like “cut the muster (not mustard) and “champing at the bit”  (not chomping), etc.

  • PointA_PointB

     @TheRelationshipInsider Good point. A sense check can be a great idea. Does this say what I think it does? What do you think it says? Is it understandable? Very important. 

  • Just as you said, nothing comes across quite as lame as misspelled words and third grade errors. Imagine if you were an attorney … charging $450 per hour to file a court document … and then place a value on your spelling error (or incorrect contraction). Your hourly rate should drop by 300%! When you imagine being hit in the pocketbook, you get put in your place. Anyone know an attorney worth only $150 an hour? They go begging for clients!

  • writeahead

    Best. Blog post. Ever. I completely agree – there is a difference between bending the rules for effect, and ignoring the rules completely because you have no clue what they are. I’ve created a whole business based on this premise.
     
    Never let an editor change your tone – or your voice! Your writing must be authentic and reflect who you are – especially if your brand is YOU. A good editor should know the difference. We certainly do!

  • PointA_PointB

     @writeahead Thank you so much! Obviously I couldn’t agree more 🙂

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