For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate

by Marian Schembari on March 23, 2011


The first draft of this post was called “The Spelling and Grammer Debate” I read over it a dozen times before catching my mistake. So before we dive in to this topic I want to remind you Grammar Nazis that mistakes happen to the best of us.

That said…

As I’m sure any blogger can tell you, there are always a handful of readers who annoy the crap helpfully inform you of any spelling/grammar errors.

And yes. You know who you are.

During my first year of blogging, I got defensive about this. In theory I knew readers were being helpful, but I also thought, “Calm down, who cares?”

Apparently I do. Because the more blogs I read, the more I see too many bloggers pay ZERO attention to the way they’re coming off and the more annoyed I get.

I don’t know why this has been driving me so crazy pants lately. The occasional spelling mistake doesn’t grate on my nerves the way it does to others, but writing like a five-year-old does a blogger no favors.

Story Time…

I led a social media workshop in London last year and consulted with one attendee to get his blog up and running. He has yet to get any decent traction and when I occasionally stop by his site, I can’t concentrate on the content because of his horrible spelling mistakes, completely inarticulate sentence structure and inability to capitalize the word “I” (and not in the cute way design*sponge does it). I can promise you his traffic isn’t growing because why would you trust anyone’s advice if they can’t spend two seconds proofreading their work?

That said, I’m realizing more and more that writing doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. Some folks I’ve met in real life are so articulate it hurts, but when I visit their blog I’m eye-raped by some of the worst copy I’ve ever read.

The majority of those incredible blogs out there aren’t run by “real” writers. They’re photographers who tell a story or healthy living folks who advise up on good-for-you meals. They blog to teach. Or share their lives. And you don’t need to be an A+ speller to do that.

I recently came across a fabulous food blog that has the most typos I have EVER seen. But this girl gets hundreds of comments per post and was recently able to quit her day job due to the success of her site.

Spelling Champion = Success?

The success of your own site probably won’t have much of a bearing on whether you can spell like Akeelah Anderson or if you use “who” instead of “whom”. I don’t care if you blog about photography or literary theory, blogging IS different from traditional writing and if you do want to be successful online, you need to post often and consistently. And to be honest? Unless you have a huge amount time, it’s not realistic to think you can edit every post to perfection 5 days per week.

As Dave van de Walle wrote, “Doing a proposal that could get your company the next big contract? By all means, attack that with the red pen, get many readers looking at it, run it through the spell check. Doing a blog post that needs to get out the door by 8:30? Go with the flow, even if there’s a chance of error.”

That said, if you’re trying to grow a business, get a job or land clients and you’re only posting once or twice per week, you might want to invest in an editor or barter with someone to read over each post.

Lauren Huston smartly wrote, “Many people blog for business and errors in blogs are similar to having errors on a business card.”

I’m not a Grammar Nazi, and I’m sure you can find a spelling or grammar mistake in every single post of mine (including this one). It’s not because I don’t care or don’t edit my posts within an inch of their lives. It’s simply because no matter how hard we try, mistakes happen and there are bigger and better things I want to spend my time on.

My brilliant advice:

Don’t beat yourself up over every mistake, but also, why risk it? Worry about spelling/grammar enough so that your posts are clean and professional – even if you swear a sailor or only if your mom reads your stuff.

I know you guys are going to have a field day with this one… People get weirdly worked up about spelling. So let’s have it: Agree? Disagree? Want to hit me over the head with a dictionary?

An Updated Note: As predicted, people feel strongly about writing errors, but I want to address something a few of you have commented on… Yes, spell check is great. Use it. There’s no excuse for NOT using it, especially if your browser automagically checks for mistakes. HOWEVER, spell check doesn’t fix everything, especially when a word is spelled correctly, it’s just not the right word. Or apostrophe mistakes (like I made above – now thankfully fixed). My gripe is that people get MEAN about spelling and I wish they wouldn’t. No need to be jerks, guys!

{Photo credit} {Photo credit 2}

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  • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate

    Oh man, you are brave to write about grammar and spelling. I’ll go ahead and admit that I am a total grammar and spelling nerd, but I try to keep it in check. After all, the point is to communicate, and if the writer reaches that goal, for the most part I’m happy. Of course, there are always exceptions… *mwuahahahaha*

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      I know. I’ve been debating with myself for two weeks on whether to publish it. I understand being a nerd, it’s adorbs ;-) What I don’t understand is people who get MEAN about it.

      • J.

        Yeah, the mean thing is nuts. I would say it’s the anonymity of the web that brings out the haters, but when you consider email addresses and IP addresses it’s not like anybody is totally hidden. It just makes them look like jerks. This sort of stuff is my job and I totally don’t get the agressive people…really, why?

  • Anonymous

    Am I the only one looking at the Spelling Bee trophy to try to catch misspellings?

    That being said, you do a great job of making sure people get “context” and “mindset” in this post. Agree wholeheartedly that making a living with words means getting words and their spelling right. And if you’re a plumber, then we’ll cut you some slack first time around.

    Great stuff, as always!

    • http://www.redheadwriting.com The Redhead

      I’m lucky in that I encourage my readers to send me grammar and spelling mistakes. I love it! Heaven knows, I’m a writer, not an editor. And yes – colloquialisms in blogging are AOK, but just make sure they fit your audience. I’m doubting engineers want to hear about your schiz. They’d be more a fan of salient points ;)

      • Anonymous

        We got into an argument (polite discussion) about category mistakes (or
        me telling NYT Bestselling Authors to “get it’s and its right in the
        subject line of an email”). This was a case where the guy, obviously a
        writer, lost me because, in the effort to peddle his service, he
        neglected to have an editor look at the very first part of the very
        first message promoting his new service. I would have told him directly
        - but I didn’t feel as if I had ANY rapport with him – he didn’t seem
        like the type to invite dialogue, unlike this site and its commenters.

  • http://www.jessilicious.com Jess Webb

    Hi Marian! :)

    Ooooh, excellent topic! :) I definitely agree. This is one of those cases where you don’t want to go too far to either extreme. No point in being neurotic about it and agonizing over getting your spelling and grammar absolutely perfect. But as you demonstrated so well in your examples, being too far the other way can be a huge detriment to your business, as too poor of spelling or grammar will quickly turn readers off. :)

  • Tia

    Even if writing doesn’t come naturally, it is so easy to check your grammar and spelling now using automated tools that a failure to get it (mostly) right simply shows that you don’t care or you’re lazy. This can’t help your professional image.

    But there is such a thing as a typo and that happens to the best of us, which you most certainly are, despite the unnecessary apostrophe in “Nazi’s” above! (For those who don’t know: the plural is “Nazis” and the apostrophe shows possession, as in “the Nazi’s boots”. And no, you don’t need to be good at apostrophes to get this right. You just have to look it up on the web, e.g. see http://www.dreaded-apostrophe.com/.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      I disagree. Spell check misses A LOT. Like me using an unnecessary apostrophe. And no matter how many times I read over my post, I missed that. Just like I missed “Grammer” – because spell check doesn’t check the titles of posts. I’m not selling spelling mistakes are okay, but that you can’t just rely on automated tools. Nothing takes the place of just reading something out loud to yourself or asking another pair of eyes to check over it.

      At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter HOW you check for errors. People notice mistakes when they’re there. Not if they’re not. Meaning if you want to work on that “professional image” do what you can. But us on the other side also need to cut folks a little slack.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=728122332 Tia Azulay

        I like the reading aloud thing. That also works for me. And yes, I still don’t catch everything. The reason I called the “Nazi’s” error a typo is because I think that’s how it comes across: simply one of the occasional errors that even a good writer makes sometimes, and not a reflection of a generally lackadaisickal attitude. When a piece is generally well-written and clearly has been checked, the occasional error of this nature only points up how good the rest of the piece is! :)

    • http://www.jargonwriter.com Melissa Breau

      …and if we’re nit-picking your . should be inside your ” Tia (so “the Nazi’s boots.” and not boots”.) :-)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=728122332 Tia Azulay

        Ah, but here we come to the differences between American and British punctuation… so you’re right, and I’m right, on this one!

  • J.

    I’m a freelance editor and, in addition to my professional website, I maintain a crafting blog as my hobby. I’m pretty carefree about what goes on my hobby blog and generally try to keep it a fun/no-stress sort of place (i.e., typos and run-on sentences have been known to happen). On the other hand, my professional website is a major stress-monger; how bad would it look to be an editor with typos on your website? Yeah, not so much.

    I realize that not everybody is an editor or grew up with grammar-freak parents, so I don’t expect total perfection on every website. I do expect perfection in regards to spelling; I mean, c’mon, how hard is it to ignore/not use the spell check feature? Grammar and writing quality is where I go soft because clearly these are areas where you need to invest time and money and clearly not every site is about that sort of thing, e.g., the food and photography bloggers mentioned above.

    However, one major design blog that I read usually nestles her images between huge swaths of text that feature tons of run-on sentences, grammar errors and repetitive sentence structures. It really grates on me. It was forgivable the first few years she began blogging, but seriously, if you’re supporting yourself via your blog -and have been for a few years- either pony up for a copy editor to run through your posts or invest in a few online grammar courses for yourself. I expect people to mature with their business and the sort of writing I see on that site just makes me think they are some level of stupid to not polish up their online presence. Obviously I’m still reading the blog, but I don’t take her as seriously anymore, even though her blog has taken her career to new places. I just think she could go further with more polish.

    Bottom line? I take websites more seriously when they have good spelling and grammar. I really sit up and pay attention when they have compelling copy. I give grace in lower-impact areas, like the blog component of a professional website or sites that are written in a low-key format. Spend the time and money to get it right where it’s most important -and please, just run the friggin’ spell check!

  • http://www.rosemcgrory.co.uk Kate Rose

    Doesn’t it depend on whether communication is an integral part of what your business does? The food blogger isn’t ruining her credibility with a few spelling mistakes, because it’s all about the food content – although lots of readers would probably enjoy it more with a little spellcheck.
    What blows me away is the number of folks in comms related industries (marketing, PR, social media etc) who write incoherently and / or grammatically incorrectly on their websites and blogs. In those instances, potential clients should surely expect immaculate writing and grammar?

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Absolutely! I think it would be much worse for a book blogger to litter their copy with errors than a daily food blogger. It definitely depends on the context/content. I, for one, enjoy reading more when I’m not editing in my head, but when I’m looking at pictures of food it doesn’t matter as much. Still, if that food blogger then wants to get writing assignments for magazines or other blogs, it might help if they’re a good communicator…

    • http://www.jargonwriter.com Melissa Breau

      I have to chime in here that a number of PR professional really have limited or no training in how to write (and in grammar specifically). I receive PR pitch after pitch that is poorly written. And I agree; if you want an EDITOR to take you seriously, make sure you’re representing your clients in a good light and proofread your work.

  • http://www.thenewsmall.com Phil Simon

    “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
    –Leonardo da Vinci

  • http://www.averagesupermom.com Sean Wilson

    Great post! I am a grammar freak, but I’m not one to blast people for it. However, I would want to know if there is a glaring error on my blog somewhere.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Definitely. It used to drive me crazy when readers would email me with errors, but now I’m grateful for it! It’s sort of like free copy editing ;-)

      • http://www.jargonwriter.com Melissa Breau

        As a general rule of thumb, I don’t email bloggers about mistakes in individual posts, but if I catch something on a static page I try to politely point it out.

        Since editing is something I do professionally, errors stand out to me a lot more than to most people (even in some books, which likely were edited by more than one person) — so I make a point to remember exactly what Marian is saying here: no one is perfect.

  • http://twitter.com/redoingmedia/status/50546185127202816 RedoingMedia

    Come down on 'spelling counts' side, of course! RT @MarianSchembari: For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate http://bit.ly/eAAyie

  • http://twitter.com/keyboardhussy/status/50567410494881792 Evelyn Lafont

    RT @AustinWulf: RT @marianschembari: For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate http://bit.ly/eAAyie

  • http://twitter.com/philsimon/status/50572029392453632 Phil Simon

    For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate — Marian Schembari http://t.co/HK7pXx7 via @MarianSchembari

  • http://twitter.com/bostonbibliophl Marie

    There’s no excuse for poor spelling. Every blog editor comes with a spell check- use it! As for grammar, we all make mistakes, but it is painful to read someone whose syntax is consistently poor. And I wouldn’t want to do business with someone who can’t express him or herself well. What’s that business relationship going to be like, if you have to puzzle out what someone means because he or she lacks the skill to articulate well?

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Agreed. HOWEVER, as someone on Twitter put it, “if spell check is your safety net then you’re screwed.” For example, I’m in no way a lazy writer. I read over this post a dozen times before hitting publish. Firefox highlights any spelling mistakes. But it didn’t catch that I put in an unnecessary apostrophe in a word and wrote “on” instead of “in.” I’m with you on judging business relationships based on communication, but I also believe it’s important to cut people a little slack sometimes :)

  • http://twitter.com/ManOfLaBook Zohar

    Oooh, I can comment.
    English is my second language so spelling and grammar errors stand out to me as if someone shone a light on them.

    My advice (besides a second pair of eyes) is to read your post out loud – you’d be surprised at how many errors you catch.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Absolutely! That’s something I always do before publishing each post – it’s a great way to catch things silently reading might never have caught. Still though, a mistake here and there isn’t the end of the world. Sometimes no matter how many times you read something, errors get through. It’s life, man!

  • http://twitter.com/au_smcedu/status/50580542302859264 AU Social Media Club

    RT @asherhuey: For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate http://t.co/0YCg0aJ via @MarianSchembari

  • http://twitter.com/emmacunningham/status/50600200938594304 Emma Cunningham

    Dear bloggers, please do not forsake the rules of spelling and grammar. http://ow.ly/4kJN0

  • http://twitter.com/bethharte/status/50613611818782720 Beth Harte

    For Bloggers: The Spelling & Grammar Debate http://t.co/scyujND via @MarianSchembari (writing like a five-year-old does a blogger no favors)

  • http://twitter.com/_fee/status/50616112324423680 Fee Naaijkens

    For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate — Marian Schembari http://t.co/ivw6vFM via @MarianSchembari

  • http://talkingshrimp.com/blog LBelgray

    I agree with you on it being unrealistic to catch all the mistakes. But I feel like people should really learn the its/it’s there/their/they’re you’re/your rules. These are the mistakes that just look dumb. I’d want someone to tell me if I left one of those booboos in my blog post.

    So people should drill themselves on them till it’s natural to use the right one. Really, especially bloggers – no way they can claim they don’t have time for that when you KNOW they’re reading other blogs all day and taking obsessive notes on how they can improve their own. There’s a way, right there.

    Oh, and here’s where I’m a grammar nazi. (I don’t capitalize nazi, doesn’t deserve it.) When people use the subject pronoun instead of object pronoun. “Want to hang out with Marian and I?” They think “me” is incorrect in any context.

    Wow, writing about grammar is a surefire way to get people riled up. I wrote a post about pet peeves, and at least half of them were grammar-based.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      One of my favorite dorky things to do in my spare time is keep a list of grammar mistakes, common spelling errors and random rules about deleting the word “that” or “is” to tighten my writing and make it easier to read. Blogging has definitely helped my writing, but I also don’t think it’s the be all and end all of blogging. We all blog for different reasons and missing a capitalized “I” or writing “who” instead of “whom” won’t make or break your success.

      It might, however, drive a few people completely insane ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/KristinOffiler Kristin Offiler

    Spelling is a small order issue, and while it is totally important, it’s not as important as the content, the organization, whether or not what you’re saying makes sense. THAT is the stuff that should be focused on first. I do get bothered by spelling errors and I’ve seen them in every blog I’ve ever read, but I find it much easier to brush off a spelling or grammar mistake if the content is well written, logically organized, engaging and useful. The Grammar Police need to chill! Call in the Content Cavalry if you really care.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Agreed!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kkinrade Kimberly Kinrade

    As a professional writer I have made my share of grammar and spelling mistakes. Having said that, I’m pretty damn careful about it. But it’s a direct reflection on my career! It’s true that many people are skilled at communicating in person and horrifyingly bad at communicating in writing.

    Does a baker or tax attorney or Yoga instructor really have to be skilled at writing in order to be skilled at their work? No. Does it make my toes hurt to read websites that have tons of errors in it? YES! This is what ghostwriters and editors are for. To help those who cannot help themselves.

    For those who can’t afford it, do it anyways. At least for the bulk of your site. Then, do video blogs rather than written blogs to keep your site updated and interesting without sabotaging yourself with the words.

    I can speak from personal experience that many writers are willing to work in trade for services or products they need.

    If you do write your own blog posts, learn to write well — for the sake of humankind and probably other species far and wide! Take a workshop, get help, check your work. It’s not just about spelling and grammar. You need to make sense. So many people simply don’t.

    I recently went to a website advertising design and editing. The first sentence on their home page was so convoluted and awful that I couldn’t keep reading. When I did finally force myself to read more I saw it did not improve. This did NOTHING to promote their business and EVERYTHING to mark their page as one of the worst websites I’ve seen. I even used it as an example in a class I taught.

    So, bottom line, I’m not a nazi about it. If you have a well written site with a few minor mistakes now and then, I will not lead a parade of angry villagers to burn you at the stake. But if your site defies all good sense in writing and syntax, I’m outta there! (After busting out some tar and feathers!)

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Dude. EPIC comment, thank you!!

      I think you’ve got a great and healthy attitude towards writing and mistakes. I’m definitely not saying this stuff isn’t important. In fact, it always drives me a little crazy when some bloggers are so obviously lazy about editing their work My point is exactly what you said – minor mistakes are okay once in a while. Being so convoluted is going to hurt your writing and your audience, so be smart about it. At the end of the day though, it’s not the end of the world and I wish some commenters would calm their nipples about it ;-)

  • http://www.reptileapartment.com John F Taylor

    Marian, I couldn’t agree more. Now as a writer myself I have made numerous mistakes in punctuation and grammar. But if we are to be taken seriously they should be avoided at all costs or at least corrected. What’s funny is that I used to be the exact person Kimberly refers to as writing in convoluted ways. My editor has since brought me back to earth and life is much happier now. As we discussed earlier as well spell check still misses quite a few common terms not to mention you can add what ever you want to its dictionary and it would seem many people do just that. There’s my two cents. Awesome post thanks for sharing.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Thanks John! An editor is always useful and can make anyone a better writer. I’m lucky in that both my parents are editors :) Nothing wrong with a little kick back to earth – we don’t want to blog if we can’t be understood – but there should also be a limit to how much we care about that stuff. Isn’t the content what’s important??

  • http://twitter.com/NataliaSylv Natalia Sylvester

    I like to take the “friendly editor” approach. I’m pretty forgiving about certain errors on blogs because I know that there are times that they just slip through the cracks. No one’s perfect, and even us writers and editors who do this for a living will make mistakes. If it’s particularly embarrassing, I’ll send a quick email letting the writer know, because if it were me, I’d want to know.

    That being said, I’m a lot harder on myself because blogging about writing and then having a bunch of typos would seriously damage my credibility. I LOVE the preview function on WP, because it lets me catch things I might not catch on the compose window. To me, it’s the equivalent of printing something out to edit it (which I’ll still do when writing longer magazine articles).

    I know that not everyone has the time or budget to afford an editor, especially if you’re posting several times a week. I suggest partnering with another blogger who’ll give your pieces a read-through, and vice-versa. I do this with another freelancer whenever I update my main website, because I definitely can’t have typos there!

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      See, that’s the thing: Definitely more important for someone like you than, say, a photographer. There is sort of a “time and place for everything” kind of approach. I think writing clearly if you have a blog is HUGELY important, but not the be all and end all of blogging.

      And I recently found that preview trick, by the way. It’s almost exactly like printing something out! I almost always catch errors that way when I wouldn’t have while on the edit screen.

  • http://twitter.com/marianschembari/status/50722223639638016 Marian Schembari

    In case you missed today's post, there's big drama happening in the comments. About spelling. http://t.co/c8tndHc

  • http://twitter.com/kimberlykinrade/status/50722927020224512 Kimberly Kinrade

    RT @MarianSchembari: today's post: big drama happening in the comments. About spelling. http://bit.ly/h0AewZ

  • http://twitter.com/thisnewtown/status/50724768420343808 Marian Schembari

    For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate http://t.co/c8tndHc via @MarianSchembari

  • http://twitter.com/oligarside/status/50725060478115840 Oli Garside

    RT @MarianSchembari: In case you missed today's post, there's big drama happening in the comments. About spelling. http://t.co/c8tndHc

  • http://afeitar.blogspot.com/ Helen

    I like to pride myself on my grammar on spelling but I admit that I do get ‘lend’ and ‘borrow’ confused which is TERRIBLE for a librarian! An anonymous commenter pointed this out to me and I felt so bad about it that I corrected it but in a way I wish they didn’t feel the need to do it anonymously. They DID pick at the fact though that as a librarian I should know better, but I don’t ever remember sitting that important exam where I needed to differentiate between lend and borrow…Maybe they should introduce it though! Haha!

    To be honest, I tend not to notice slight grammatical mistakes. Spelling is my real bugbear though, but I don’t think I would ever have the balls to point it out to someone over the internet. If they wanted to know they would click spell check. It also depends on the blog – if it’s just a personal hobby blog then it isn’t as big a deal as someone who is blogging professionally but they should still aim for high standards.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      LOL. Great comment, Helen!

      I don’t think pointing out mistakes is such a huge deal. It definitely doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. But anonymously is lame and leaving thous mistakes in a comment is even worse. It’s sort of like, “Hey! I’m obviously much smarter than you!” instead of just sending those mistakes in an email where you’re not anonymous or shouting from the rooftops. I’ve found a lot of people that get obsessed about spelling do it to look smart and not actually to help the blogger in question. It’s so aggravating!

  • http://twitter.com/theprfreelancer ThePRFreelancer

    Great post Marian. I posted a link to it on my business Facebook page.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Thanks Lori!

  • http://jakelacaze.com/ Jake LaCaze

    You have to know when to let it go. I used to be a grammar Nazi, but when I started reading fiction from authors like Irvine Welsh and Hubert Selby, Jr., I realized that I didn’t like them for their grammar; I liked them for their STORIES. And so, (oh dear god, I just started a sentence with “And”!) I try to let that find its way into my writing, whether I’m writing fiction or on my own blog.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Exactly. Great spelling and grammar makes a piece easier to read. You don’t want your mind taken out of the story because it’s hard to understand. BUT, at the end of the day, it’s not the important part of the story. It’s the story itself. And sentences that begin with and are great. So are fragments :)

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  • http://twitter.com/ShakirahDawud T. Shakirah Dawud

    Just coming upon this post, Marian, and I appreciate it. Wrote something similar but more pointed for editors who beat down other editors for typos like these recently. I agree with Jake that you have to know when to let it go. Sometimes youre reading along and you stumble on a misspelling or repeated “the” and it totally throws off the groove and you blink and frown for a minute before continuing, half-scanning for any more like that down the paragraph. Sometimes, though, it’s e-mailing a person who wrote a completely engaging and informative or whatever-else-you-needed-right-then post to tell them about a typo that throws off the groove. And you know it. So you don’t.

  • http://twitter.com/clevercode_/status/179631803261399040 clever code

    RT @MarianSchembari: For Bloggers: The Spelling and Grammar Debate http://t.co/MoUjlqtv

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