If Content Is King, Grammar Is Queen

Growing up in a household with highly disciplined parents, my grammar was always being corrected. Whether it was ending a sentence with a preposition, misplacing a modifier or splitting an infinitive, any conversation could be stopped, at any moment. Now that the marketing world has turned its sights to “content” as a key brand engagement device, I’m hopeful that the grammar police are reinforcing their troops for a ride along. Because from where I sit, brands could use a little disciplinary action. (Yep, just gave myself a smack for starting a sentence with the word “because.” Ouch.)

Growing up in a household with highly disciplined parents, my grammar was always being corrected. Whether it was ending a sentence with a preposition, misplacing a modifier or splitting an infinitive, any conversation could be stopped, at any moment, to make sure I knew the right way to restate my thought (per the English grammar guidelines found in the little book Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”).

Yes—dinnertime conversation was often painful.

The lowlight was when my parents told me that my most recent letter home from college was fraught with grammatical errors, and they had seriously considered returning it to me, complete with red pencil corrections. Needless to say, my correspondence home dwindled.

Now that the marketing world has turned its sights to “content” as a key brand engagement device, I’m hopeful that the grammar police are reinforcing their troops for a ride along. Because from where I sit, brands could use a little disciplinary action. (Yep, just gave myself a smack for starting a sentence with the word “because.” Ouch.)

Over the years, I’ve certainly visited thousands of websites, downloaded hundreds of whitepapers and case studies, and, like you, I’ve received lots and lots of emails including sales tips and e-newsletters. I’m still amazed at the lack of grammar skill. Forget the typos—they’re just inexcusable—I mean the basics like “too” instead of “to,” or “between Joe and I” instead of “between Joe and me,” or a simple sentence like this: “If you would like to discuss Social Media with regards to your business further, please feel free to contact me.” Huh?

If you read my blog, you’ll know that I love commas. I think they help the reader pause, consider the point being made, and then continue to absorb the next point. It appears that idea is lost on many writers … or worse, the comma is misplaced. Consider the famous book title “Eats shoots and leaves” versus “Eats, shoots and leaves” or even “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” Personally I like serial commas, but it seems many brands have pushed them aside as part of their brand guidelines and chaos has erupted over the meaning of a sentence. [Editor’s note: Target Marketing adheres to AP Style, as do most publications, and the AP does not endorse serial commas. We apologize for any misunderstanding this may cause about whether to leave your bullets or dinner.]

I’m the first to tell you my personal grammar skills are still not entirely A+ (my parents are nodding), but there are so many proofreaders, grammarians or other online expert sources available (not to mention a nifty little tool in Microsoft Word called ‘Spelling & Grammar’) that there is simply no excuse for any company to be executing marketing materials that are anything less than perfect.

So before you create and publish your next ‘content’ deliverable, consider getting professional help. Here are a few of my favorite editorial review pros:

  • HyperGraphix (www.hgpublishing.com): This guy is smart, fast and CHEAP; Known for proofing tediously long documents on topics that would bore the average reader. Plus he works in two languages (Canadian and American) in case you’re publishing north of the border. He has an online tool that fixes sentences for free (you can’t beat that price), and if you subscribe to his tweets, he provides helpful tips and links to helpful articles.
  • Grammar Girl (grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/): Short, sharp, and to the point, her emails on grammar tips have become part of my morning reading ritual.
  • Bulletproof (www.bulletproofonline.com): Strong proofreading skills and your ideal “brand police” if you share your brand guidelines with them.

If your issue, on the other hand, is content creation, don’t leave that to your sales guy. Cough up the budget for a professional writer—one with the research skills that can thoroughly investigate the topic, identify a point of view for your brand, and write in a voice that matches your brand style. There are hundreds of excellent writers out there who are wincing as they read your materials.

So go ahead—jump on the content bandwagon—and Long live the Queen!