Health With a Capital H
Grammar in the Digital Age: It Still Matters
August 28, 2012
Contributed by Kristin Blank, Writer/Editor III
These days, it seems every person and all of their household pets have Twitter or Facebook accounts, as do organizations, associations, campaigns, Federal agencies, and private companies. Thanks to the monumental membership on social media platforms, content is flying about in 140 characters or less, and “Likes” count as evidence of stakeholder engagement.
You’d be surprised just how many grammatical errors can fit into 140 characters. And while it may not matter when a person sends a personal tweet about how many miles he ran on the treadmill, it cannot be overstated how much grammatical errors matter when the tweet is sent for a professional reason.
These days, it seems that routine proofreading gets scant attention, even from major news outlets. Beyond errors in tweets, egregious errors are cropping up in headlines on websites and in online copy.
The good news is that online errors can be instantly corrected, not like in print newspapers and magazines, with thousands of copies distributed around the globe. (But maybe not before screenshots are saved or 1,000 retweets are sent.)
In addition, Matt Cutts, head of the Google Webspam team, said that “reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well."
Online errors matter, especially when they show up in a company’s messaging—blogs, tweets, or Facebook posts.
What do errors tell the audience? To an online reader like me, a stickler for grammar (I hang my hat on writing well, after all), here is what I think when I see an error in a company’s tweet:
- This company is careless. If staff can’t take the time to read one sentence carefully, where else are they cutting corners?
- If the company doesn’t make sure its grammar is correct, how can I be sure the data it’s passing along are accurate? After all, fact-checking takes a lot longer than reading 140 characters to make sure you didn’t leave out the word “the.”
- This company is understaffed and overworked. Clearly, an editor is not paid to check these tweets, and whoever is task lead is too hurried to make sure the tweets are correct.
- Is this company worth following? I get so much information every day, I only want the highest quality.
Are these reactions extreme? Possibly. After all, sometimes a missing “the” is just a missing “the,” and no one is immune to errors. But if a company repeatedly makes grammatical mistakes in its online messaging—I seriously reevaluate my need to interact with that firm.