How to Write Right — Part 1
(Spelling and Grammar Errors)

Dear fellow entrepreneur,

I'm continually amazed at the lackadaisical attitude that some people exhibit toward spelling and grammatical errors in their Internet copy. After all, your Internet copy is going to be read by (you hope) thousands or millions of people. Why spend time and money developing the "perfect" brand or logo when your copy shouts "I'm a lazy, ignorant slob!"?

(In this article, I'm addressing web page copy, but the same principles apply to ezines, blogs, and other forms of permanent, widely-distributed e-communication. I am not referring to personal e-mail, which operates under a different set of rules.)

Let's start with spelling. With the proliferation of spell-checking tools, there are only two cases where spelling "errors" are acceptable —

  • When the error is intentional and serves a purpose. Example: when I'm writing that "I feel stupid....", I may misspell it as "I feel stoopid...." to further illustrate my point.

  • When the "error" is actually the correct spelling in another country. For example, there's the American "color" vs. the British "colour". If your copy is directed toward a specific country, you should spell according to their rules, not your own.

A much bigger "spelling" error is when the wrong word is spelled correctly. I recently read some web copy where the writer wrote about something "peeking his interest." Apparently someone pointed out his error, because a week or so later, he had changed it to "peaking his interest." Unfortunately, neither word is correct — although both are spelled correctly. (The correct word is "piquing his interest.")

Although they're pronounced similarly, there's a big difference between bazaar (a marketplace) and bizarre (strange); peek (glance), peak (top), and pique (tempt); pole (rod) and poll (survey); arc (a curve) and ark (a ship); and so on.

If you're not sure that you're using the correct word, either look it up or don't use it!

A similar problem occurs in choosing between using two words or one — "nobody" means "no one", but "no body" means "without a body"; "maybe" means perhaps, while "may be" is a verb meaning "is possible"; "anyone" means "anybody", yet "any one" means "any single item". (As in "Anyone can vote for any one candidate.")

Perhaps the biggest problem occurs with contractions and possessive pronouns. Some frequent offenses include —

  • "You're" is a contraction of "you are"; "your" means "belonging to you".
  • "There's" is a contraction of "there is"; "theirs" is a possessive form of "they".
  • To make matters worse, "there" means "in that place"; "their" means "belonging to them"; and "they're" is a contraction of "they are".
  • The most frequently occurring error is probably: "it's" is a contraction of "it is" while "its" means "belonging to it".

Now I'm not calling for "perfect" (meaning error-free) copy either. There is a BIG difference between effective copy and error-free, "proper" copy, and you need to know the difference.

For example, the title of this article — "How to Write Right" — is incorrect. (It should be "How to Write Correctly".) But I was grammatically incorrect on purpose... and I'll address the reasons why "bad" grammar can be "good" in Part II of this series.

As always, wishing you every Internet success!

signed Jim Barber

Jim Barber