Textbook errors

Not long ago, I was browsing the gift selection in a well-known retailer in anticipation of the then-imminent end of term. I took a double take as I scanned the promotional in-store signage which read: “3 For 2: Gift’s For Teacher’s” [sic].

John Lewis

My spell check is going off the wall as I type and it seems that the same was happening to many other customers, all of whom have come to expect a certain level of excellence from this brand. Not long afterwards, these grammatical misdemeanours made it into a number of national newspapers, hot on the trail of a minor twitter furore at the hand of my fellow shoppers. The retailer tersely batted away a series of comments on social media with a prompt response that, the ‘Twitterati’ smugly noted, featured the correct usage of apostrophes.

While the consequences for the company in question were limited to fending off a mildly tongue-in-cheek diary story, poor grammar can have a big impact – particularly for less established businesses. Smaller or newer companies can see their credibility instantly knocked by incorrect language formation, whether online or in print.

Work hard to avoid bad grammar
Photo by Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash

English is one of the most flexible and expressive languages in the world. It has a wide-ranging vocabulary through which we can precisely communicate concepts, ideas and situations. And the scale of adverbs, metaphors and similes that we can choose from has the power to unlock our senses and bring these concepts to life.

But with flexibility comes ambiguity. The breadth of words at our disposal makes for a language that can be difficult to use. Ambiguous grammatical rules and spelling variations mean that the use of English is often misinterpreted. And this is before we even look at the complexities around the UK’s ‘grammatical treasure’, the apostrophe. All of these factors can lead to widespread confusion and complacency, adding to the increased pressures at work as busy employees rely more heavily on spell checking software to iron out these inaccuracies. And this increases the margin of error, leaving the door wide open to pesky typos itching to seep their way into print.

Stand out good English
Photo by Jon Tyson, Unsplash

The misuse of grammar has been intensified in today’s digital world, where content is king and every one of us has the means to report a story, post a blog, or send an email. Gone are the days where a business’s every communication was scrutinised by its resident English expert. And with ‘SMSish’ and ‘Chatspeak’ apparently diluting our understanding of these fundamentals, the standards and quality businesses work so hard to protect are more vulnerable than ever.

Whether it makes it into print, digital or simply internal copy, poor grammar can instantly derail the message that a business is trying to portray. A lifetime of good customer service can be swiftly diluted by weak external communications, which will, in turn, deter prospective customers from ever engaging in the first place. Whether you’re a long-standing pillar of the high street or an up-and-coming company fighting to be heard, don’t let bad grammar stand in the way of your business.

Top tips for watertight copy:

  • Spellcheck on your PC but beware of anomalies.
  • Use online proofreading tools such as Grammarly to catch these and any grammatical hotspots within your copy.
  • Relearn the basics.
  • Read once. Then read again, aloud.
  • Get a colleague to proofread copy.
  • Take a break if you can before you publish, press ‘send’ or print. Overnight is always good for weighty or important pieces.
  • If in doubt, hire a copywriter!

I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks on copy, content and getting noticed for the right reasons. To receive future insights, please sign up here.



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