Blogging and Grammar

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As a former English professor, I don’t often put on my grammar doc hat, but today, I felt inspired.

First, I read Geoff Hoff’s blog post where he makes a strong case for writing that at least makes sense:

Writing That Makes Sense

I felt inspired to add my own thoughts in a big long comment, and Geoff suggested I turn this into a blog post all by itself, with a few edits, of course… So here I am, writing my own post on Blogging and Grammar.

Blogging and Grammar

I’ve encountered quite a few discussions in online marketing circles about how much grammar counts in blogging and in copywriting. Some people argue it’s not important, but obviously, this isn’t quite the case.

The key is to differentiate between various definitions of grammar…

Some people have been so “wounded” by nitpicky teachers in school that they resent any criticism of anyone’s grammar. And some of those teachers may well have overshot their target.

So where’s the line? Consider this:

There are several ways of looking at grammar, as Geoff pointed out, and I couldn’t help myself – I just HAD to add a bit more detail… I actually used to be an English professor before I moved on to the wonderful world of copywriting and internet marketing, and I took the soap box quite often – no, not to pick on people’s grammar, but to differentiate between “real” mistakes and informal grammar that might not quite fit the official “rules” but actually works better in real life.

The key is always “appropriate.” So here goes…

a) Prescriptive “correctness”

That’s the bit about prohibitions against prepositions at the end of sentences, and split infinitives (i.e., “to fully appreciate”). Violating those things may get you on the wrong side of SOME teachers and other people, but not usually of the majority of your buying audience.

I can’t remember who came up with my favorite example: “This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.” (Geoff suggested it was Churchill, and I think he’s right). I will resist the temptation to explain the exact reasons behind all of that, at least for now.

b) Formal vs. informal writing

Today’s preferred language use in most contexts (including marketing and copywriting) tends towards the informal part of the spectrum, and that’s a good thing. This is NOT the same as incorrect grammar though. In fact, it’s all about appropriateness.

Here’s an example: Which of the following sentences are you more likely to hear as a question at a party:

a) Who did you come to the party with?
b) With whom did you come to the party?

It’s difficult to come up with a context where b) would sound natural. I could imagine hearing it during the cross-examination in a court scenario. But not at any party, ever. Not even those in really formal settings.

c) Blogging and REALLY Bad grammar

This includes mistakes ranging from apostrophy abuse to dangling participles, agreement errrors, word mix-ups, and bad tense constructions, i.e., “I have wrote…” And of course that garbage that you find in comment spam. That’s the stuff to be avoided as much as possible.

And doing some research, I came across a delightful and highly informative info graphic by copyblogger with the 15 biggest mistakes (REAL mistakes), which basically double as my own favorite pet peeves:

15 grammar goofs

Some delightful examples, especially the one for dangling participle illustrating grammar goof #15 🙂

d) REALLY informal grammar

I find that txt speak is a category upon itself, and should be viewed as such. I don’t consider it bad grammar by itself, though, like anything, it can contain bad grammar.

In fact, I personally rather enjoyed using all those abbreviations when I first discovered texting while still very much an English prof (ROFL). In fact, it felt really kind of naughty to gleefully butcher some sentences in order to make them fit inside those 160 characters. Grammar police? Not!

The key is to make it obvious that you know what you’re doing – you have to know the rules before you can skillfully break them.

It doesn’t surprise me either that a few textisms are sneaking into general informal speech and writing, and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just a part of language change – the evolution of language.

What do you think? I’d love to know.

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