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We writers often have the mickey taken out of us because we’re such sticklers for grammar, spelling and punctuation. We get called tedious, annoying and worse. Why let it bother you so much? Can’t you just let it go? Why do you even care? Well, let me explain why.

I recently dealt with a website that had three mistakes in the first sentence on its homepage. Three mistakes in one sentence would be bad enough if the sentence in question was 25 words long. This one was four words. That’s right, three glaring errors in a four-word sentence. When I told the client, they thought it was funny. They even joked that they’re ‘not very good with words’. Fair enough, that’s why they come to people like us. We are good with words. But even if being ‘not very good with words’ was an excuse (it’s not), how can a serious business think this is ok? Why do they think it doesn’t matter? The client even said, ‘People don’t care, they come to the website to buy stuff, not to read good English.’ At this point I was too speechless to continue the conversation. I simply said goodbye and got on with the task of fixing it.

I’ve fixed it now, so here’s what us pedants think.

Firstly, copy like this tells potential customers ‘we don’t really care’. How can they trust you’ll send the right trousers in the right size, or book and carry out that boiler service, or deliver the right quantity of paving slabs, when you can’t even be bothered to read what you’ve written on your own website? Secondly, the average time a person spends on a website before they decide whether to stick with it or go elsewhere is just a few seconds. Do you really want to give anyone ANY excuse to leave your website for a competitor’s? Thirdly, what about professional pride? Doesn’t attaching your company name to something that a GCSE student would be embarrassed to submit make you squirm even a little bit?

Maybe none of the above bothers you. Maybe it’s just us. But do you really want to take that risk? Can we suggest that the next time you put an apostrophe in the wrong place, or misspell a word or leave a space between the final word in the sentence and the full stop, that it does matter. You’re damaging your business, your reputation and your bottom line. And if you can’t be bothered to do it yourself, grab one of us pedants. We love to tinker with copy until it’s like Goldilocks’ porridge. Just right.


  1. Johnny says:

    On the whole I agree with all of that. Language is a living, evviolng thing and the successful communicators know how to play with it. Sometimes breaking the rules is all part of the communication process it’s not just about flow, it’s also about creating a meaningful impact by breaking out of the accepted and familiar just like poetry. Shakespeare is held aloft by the very people who stick unwaveringly to the rules, yet in his own day he was a huge innovator in terms of language use.Where I’d throw in a caveat is to say it depends on the audience. For certain products and services the target market is much more likely to be irked by deviations from the norm, so it’s wiser to wear your Norm anorak than be a deviant.That’s why I wouldn’t have included less/fewer on the list. It’s surprising how many people are still riled by that and Waitrose gets it right for a reason.

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