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How Much Should Grammar Matter to Bloggers?

First, a disclosure: I’m a grammar nut. I cringe when I walk into the grocery store and see row after row of checkout lines devoted to people who have “10 items or less” to purchase. And I also used to work for a manager who repeatedly asked me to pick up the “most current” contract (which would set me to muttering about how the word “current” shouldn’t be modified by the word “most,” as something is either current or out of date).

I enjoy a good gaffe as much as the next guy. But recently, I’ve been wondering if a relentless focus on pristine grammar and glistening sentences hasn’t been keeping some people out of our online conversations.

For example, when clients come to the company I work for and ask for help with some kind of reputation management problem, they’re encouraged to become content generators. “Tweet, tweet, tweet,” we tell them. “Blog, blog, blog,” we remind them. But at the same time, there’s a parallel conversation afoot that seems to suggest that only the strongest among us should be writing.

And to be honest, that conversation makes me a little uncomfortable.

Cringe-Worthy Content is Common

While almost everyone with an internet connection is facing pressure to get out there and generate some fabulous content, we may be less prepared than we’ve ever been to generate pieces that would pass grammar muster. A fascinating book published in 2003, The War Against Grammar, demonstrated this point quite nicely, as the authors suggest that funding and public support for formal grammar education in school has been on the decline since the 1960s. As a result, few students have the opportunity to really learn the basics while they’re in school, and fewer still feel compelled to study the topic on their own time.

In addition, many informal writers seem all but dependent upon the tools they use in order to get the job done. They run a quick spelling and grammar check in Word, and if no mistakes appear, they consider the text as perfect as it can possibly be. Unfortunately, these tools are often blunt at best, and sometimes, they’re downright awful. My Word program, for example, has tried to force me to change “I am” to “I be” on more than one occasion, and if I followed that advice, I have no idea what the public reaction might be.

Penalties for Poor Grammar: A New Trend?

If few students learn about grammar, and the tools we use in order to catch our mistakes are inferior, it’s no surprise that many blogs are filled with bits of stray verbiage that would make any teacher cringe. But unfortunately, there is a push to perfect grammar in every piece of writing that appears online.

Google isn’t out-and-out penalizing sites that utilize poor grammar. In fact, Matt Cutts has even gone on record to suggest that poor grammar in comments won’t lead to the devaluation of a site. But, Google has also instituted a “search by reading level” function that allows users to weed out articles that don’t meet a certain quality standard. It’s easy to see how this little change might morph into an index that ranks pages by grade level and quality of writing, putting the best stuff first. It’s not happening now, but it might happen in the future, right?

At Bing, however, the future is now. As a piece on the Bing Blog put it, near the end of February, sites with few “errors” just seem as though they’re of a higher quality, and as a result, they should get a bump in page results. It’s unclear what Bing execs consider an error (Spelling? Sentence structure? Punctuation?), but it is clear that Bing is looking for a way to rank pages by grammar. As a result, those who don’t write well might not get much of a boost in searches on Bing, no matter how often they sit down to the keyboard to write.

Words for the Professionals

For those of us who write professionally, this stuff matters, and it should matter. We’re paid to help transmit the thoughts of our clients, and we’re putting the skills we obtained in college to good use. It would be a little heartless for us to pretend that we’ll be effective writers when we can’t string together a few sentences without incorporating many errors.

Plus, professional writing is a bit like working magic. We need to cast a spell in order to lure in readers, and we need to keep their attention with each word we use. If we’re working as shamans, each error that slips past us jars our readers out of our spells and allows them to see the tiny person tapping away at the keyboard. There’s just no place for poor grammar in a piece written by professionals.

Consumers also expect this kind of professionalism when they’re working with a company that has a team of marketing writers or business experts. For example, a study conducted in England in 2013 suggests that close to 60 percent of consumers wouldn’t do business with a company that allowed typographical or grammar-based errors on its website. If money is changing hands, people expect professionalism, and they’ll look over a site with a rule book in hand to gauge how serious that company might be.

Bravery for Everyone Else

I think, however, that there’s room for average people to write average blogs that are filled with the average sort of grammar errors. Just as consumers value companies that seem professional, we also value experiences that seem somehow real, rather than managed.

Consider the viral video of Charles Ramsey that was released in the aftermath of the rescue of Amanda Berry. This man has a very tenuous grasp on excellent grammar, but his emotions are palpable and his story is all the more compelling for it. We want to know what he has to say, what he felt, and what he plans to do in the future. We’re hanging on his every word, no matter what he might choose to say.

It’s quite possible that his words would not have held such power if he had written them down. In fact, it’s very possible that some people wouldn’t have found it acceptable to keep reading when the grammar is ghastly. But, maybe the piece would have been just as effective if it had been written in his words, warts and all.

Blogs that may not pass muster with an English teacher can still be quite effective, if they’re written in a spirit of passion. People can still share a story, outline an experience and teach a lesson in an online forum, even if they shed an error or two. People like this are being true to their real selves, and I think there’s a place for that kind of writing online. I think others feel the same.

In the end, people will both find and read pieces that speak to them, and search engines will not punish content that has value, even if that content has a few rough edges that need polishing. I don’t think grammar fear should keep anyone from writing. Period.

So my advice to clients remains the same: If you have something to share online, you should do so. Try to get the words right and use the grammar tools at your disposal, but don’t let the grammar police keep you from telling your story. Do you agree?

 

Image Source: Shutterstock

 How Much Should Grammar Matter to Bloggers?

Jean Dion

Senior Journalist at InternetReputation.com
Jean Dion is a writer, editor, avid blogger and obsessed pet owner. She's a senior journalist with InternetReputation.com, and writes frequently on the intersection of private indiscretion and public embarrassment. Follow her on Google+ or Twitter.
 How Much Should Grammar Matter to Bloggers?

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35 thoughts on “How Much Should Grammar Matter to Bloggers?

  1. yes it is always matter. Because as per the google algorithms Rich content is necessary. And look it for the better result.

    1. Ehtesham,
      Content is meaning. Grammar is grammar. They are two distinctively different features of language. So content can be viewed as more important than good grammar.

  2. The more I read articles about this, the more I realize that SEO nowadays is ruled by very good writers. I am a writer alright but not a grammar master so this leaves me needing more proofreading of the articles I write.

    1. You make a good point here. Even the most adept writer among us makes a mistake from time to time (I know I do). A proofreader might be an excellent layer of protection.

  3. When I started to read this my immediate response to the title was “it obviously matters a lot, how could you even suggest it doesn’t?!” But I see what you’re saying when you talk about bravery and passion. Everyone has a story to tell, and it may not be fair to fault someone blogging or writing on a personal platform for making a few typos or not having a Master’s Degree-level grasp on their language of choice. So in that case, the quality of the content may be more important than the packaging :) But for an agency or business, I definitely expect perfection.

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  4. I think there should be penalties for poor grammar and it goes beyond letting Word fix your errors because we all know how well that works for us. If you are going to write, you should be proficient at it; blogging isn’t just an excuse not to get a “real job”, it is a real job and it should be treated as such.

    1. I can see where you’re coming from here, and it’s true that pro bloggers need to get their facts straight before they accept money from clients. That’s what makes us professionals.

      But I wonder about the “penalties” aspect of things. What sorts of penalties would you advocate, aside from a lack of clients? Those are the dings pros with poor grammar already face.

  5. Google loves fresh, relevant content. But many readers, (including myself), are distracted from great content with misuse of words, poor grammar and improper verb usage. “Bill and me went to the store…”, “There are to many instances…”, “I have literally millions of followers…”. How you write is as important as what you write. Thanks for the good points.

  6. When I started out blogging, WebSite Grader said my blogs were at the PhD level, and I was advised to change my writing style. I trained myself to be more conversational and to not be so “hung up” on grammar. I still have my “grammar buddy” I send my blogs to before I post them to assure I’m not embarrassing myself. Now I need to move back up the educational ladder and make my blogs less 6th grade and more graduate school. Sometimes SEO makes my head hurt.

  7. Hi Jean, When it comes down it some of the happiest, wealthiest and most successful bloggers are so-so in the grammar department. I am doing OK with average grammar at best lol! Thanks!

  8. Very well said.. and agree with the point .The tools we people used aren’t perfect always .If we talk in the word of Google…
    Poor grammar Mistake in the comment does not affect too much, but it is really necessary that you can try it more better in a site’s content.
    like i’ve also made some mistake in this comment lol !

  9. I hope the algorithms that Bing uses do not make the same mistakes that MS Word does in its grammar function. Word often incorrectly prompts me to change a possessive to a plural or vice versa. Word sometimes has funny ideas about what is a sentence fragment. I always use the grammar tools, but I never trust them completely.

    1. MS Word correction suggestions break up the day a little (especially if they’re funny), but you’re right. If Bing uses the same sorts of algorithms, the results might not be amusing and the wrong sites could be penalized.

  10. Most grammatical errors are incredibly simplistic, but you’re bound to get the grammar police at some point. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, enforcing proper language usage, but if it’s a vast feature and you’ve one one or two typos, it’s nothing to be too alarmed about. Innit.

    1. I hope not. Much as we all try to keep things perfect, an error is bound to slip in. We’re human, and often, there are no proofreaders involved in fast-paced blog work.

  11. A blog post with poor spelling and grammar loses ALL credibility. A post like that will never allow me to take the message seriously.

  12. I think most important thing is we write contents that people understand and the language people use to it. It all depend on what kind of professionalism. I believe there is importance for grammar too but it is not the most important thing. If you write darm good content but people don’t engage and understand it will us no matter. So the most important i believe is writing contents that engage!!!

    I always admire contents that goes viral. Why people share or like? Is it because of the grammar? No I believe because it is easy to understand it relates with the readers. That made them say : this is cool, let me share it out to my friends. :)

    1. I’m interested in the viral phenomenon, too. It’s always strange to see what people respond to and share, and you’re right, it’s typically the content that prompts a big response.

    1. It’s certainly true that many employers are going online to do pre-screening work. I’m curious about this comment, though. Do you think blogging helps or harms someone looking for a job?

  13. Hate the grammar police. Learn a second language like the rest of the world if you’re so perfect at English already.

    1. I think part of the reason I was never adept at learning another language is simply because I was worried about making too many mistakes. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I’d bet, however, that there are people out there with perfect grammar in multiple languages. Learning a new language (supposedly) helps one to understand the fundamentals of language itself, and that might make grammar rules easier to apply.

  14. I find it sad when a culture has deteriorated to the point where individuals who are competent and confident in their language skills are branded “grammar nazis” or as you’ve branded yourself, a “grammar nut.”

    That said, I tend to look at intent and context when I’m reading on the virtual world and in the physical world. When someone uses their mobile device to post a short update about something interesting on Facebook, I will overlook the app’s overzealous completion or spell-check or consider that the individual may have been short on time.

    My standards are different depending on the situation. My favorite grocery store in Oakland Chinatown will have a sign in front of the zucchini saying “Italy Squash” which I think may be the direct translation. I consider that to be charming and part of the reason why I enjoy shopping with the first generation Mom & Pop owners.

    However if I am reading an article and see a single glaring spelling error or the possessive “its” with an apostrophe, I will usually overlook the first gaffe but then be wary. If the mistakes persist, I wonder, should I take that writer seriously? How careful is he or she with the facts?

  15. Really Jean. now I need to hire a proofreader after my content writer. Content writer thinks about the subject and proofreader just search for the grammar mistakes :) I am not sure how Google can consider that?