by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President, Word Branch Media
A number of years ago, an acquaintance asked me to review his company’s website. The graphics were nice, and it was well organized. However, it was riddled with punctuation errors, grammar problems, and typos. As diplomatically as possible, I pointed out the flaws. He was clearly offended, and informed me that his customers didn’t care about things like that.
But do they? When I teach website evaluations to students, one of the critical factors is the amount of typos and grammar and usage mistakes on the site. The theory is that if a person doesn’t care enough to proofread, or hire someone to proofread, his or her website, can the information in the site be trusted? Conventional wisdom says no, or at least it needs collaborating evidence.
If I were Internet shopping for a product, I would be reluctant to turn over my money to a business that didn’t care enough to take the time to make sure the presentation to the public was accurate.
Websites aren’t the only offenders. I’ve often said that someday when I go completely off the rails, I am going to don a mask and cape and become Captain Proof, defender of grammar and usage. My plan is to take a giant Magic Marker and correct all the erroneous signs in my town: No more “Whether Veins,” “Its a boy,” or “Worship hear”!
People are touchy about their writing, and that’s understandable. Writing is an act of creation that comes from a deep place. Most people don’t feel confident about their writing abilities because they see it as a mystical process that is a part of who they are. No one wants to be told that his or her writing is flawed.
In both my teaching and editing, it is my job to tell people how to make their writing better and to separate the writing from the person. I make a point to be professional and empathetic and to make it clear that they are not being criticized. I’m not sure some of my students would believe that, but my goal is to help them make their writing better.
Contrary to my acquaintance’s ideas, people do care about accuracy. It doesn’t take an English teacher to see that a word is misspelled or a sentence is grammatically incorrect. It’s bad business to assume that your clientele doesn’t know any better, and you will never know how many potential customers you’ve lost because of sloppiness.
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