May 1, 2013

Sitting over lunch yesterday with some friends discussing the ‘decline’ of punctuation and language skills generally. One was questioning if she was the only person who cared about bad grammar and said she couldn’t concentrate on the words if they were put together badly.

Does good writing involve punctuation?

Another discussed how important the apostrophe was in their life – it was the writer’s friend, he said.

I’m curious about the changes happening to our language at the moment. When I teach social media and journalism to adults, there is a huge disparity between literacy abilities. Some really struggle simply to write, while for others it’s easy. They all have something to say though. If the only way they can get their story or opinion out there is using less than perfect grammar, that’s OK, in my mind. Social media has now given everyone the platform for everyone to publish their thoughts, feelings and news and it’s changing everything, including the language we use.

So far, there hasn’t been a big discussion from my learners about grammar – just getting to grips with the technology is often the most difficult aspect for many.  Others, who have cracked the software are more interested in how to SEO their copy, promote their blog, get more readers or fans.

Many learners publish their work when it is grammatically incorrect – it’s the getting the story out there which counts. As someone from a newspaper journalism background, I find that difficult. I always check and double-check my work to ensure it has no errors and often leave a piece for a while before publishing and then return for another check. Most people don’t work like that – luckily for them, they’ve not had enraged subs chucking their work at them for an inaccuracy or badly turned phrase. They seem to have a more free and sharing relationship with their words – ‘so what if it’s not perfect, it’s what I want to say.’

SEO, text-speak and copywriting

It may be language will change to such a degree in the future, thanks to texting, Twitter and other new tech ways of communicating that punctuation really is assigned to another era. I don’t think it will entirely but there will be big changes, I suspect which will mean our style of writing will look as dated as ‘Olde Englishe’ does to us now. Even now, writing words such as tomorrow rather than tmrw, can make me stop in my tracks and I have to remind myself to spell it out in full.

Children now have been bought up with the web, learn about it at school and I imagine will easily distinguish between a blogger’s musings with the odd capital letter missing and a corporate website. They may not even notice those errors – something which would horrify my lunch friends.

Company website copy – is good writing still important?

I do believe though that if you are a company, charity or organisation, it remains good manners to publish well-written and well-punctuated text. It shows you care how you interact with your customers or clients and you won’t risk alienating people who can’t stand seeing a comma in the wrong place. You really can lose customers through sloppy writing and my lunch friend is an example. She was so enraged recently by the poor writing during a Powerpoint presentation, she said she couldn’t focus.. Rather than just getting the message out there, the person pitching lost their audience over something as silly as poor grammar.

That doesn’t mean the language on your website, social media channels or newsletter needs to be boring – if you know your audience, you know the language they use and feel comfortable with, it should be lively and immediate – or formal and sensible if you’re readers would respond to that style.

Whether the apostrophe or possibly the more endangered semi-colon will survive is to be seen. They may be replaced by a #hashtag and the @ instead.



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