Sunday, July 08, 2012

It Makes a Difference

From time to time I will encounter the bizarre attitude that, somehow, spelling, punctuation, usage, word choice—you know, all that technical, grammar-Nazi stuff—“doesn’t matter.” Translation: “I don’t understand such things, so the armor I put on is to say it doesn’t matter.” 

In fact, it does. 

As I have expressed to more than one client—and, once, to an alleged editor!—such supposed trivia may well go unnoticed by 98.6% of readers, but the flip side is that it will be noticed by 1.4% of readers. And simple mathematics tells us that the bigger the total number of readers, the greater that 1.4% will be in actual numbers of readers. That 1.4% could be 100,000 readers. (We should be so lucky.) 

More disturbing: You have no way of knowing who those 1.4% are. Nobody does. You have no way of knowing their personalities, their threshold of tolerance of sloppy (or nonexistent) editing. For every one who might just shake his or her head and plunge on ahead, you could have one or two who give up, close the book (real or virtual) or web page, and never come back. 

Simply because, as the meme has it, you don’t know the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit. And you don’t like “grammar Nazis,” so you shut down the person who could help you. 

I pause to reflect on these things because a few minutes ago I started to read an article that I had bookmarked earlier. The topic sounded interesting—writing a sales page for book promotion—and maybe the article contained some useful information; I’ll never know, because when I came to the second error in as many paragraphs, I stopped reading. Sure, I could simply have tut-tutted and kept going. Heaven knows I’ve done that more often than I’d care to count. But today I didn’t feel like it. The obvious sloppiness of the article caused me to doubt that its author really had anything worth saying. If she had, she would have taken a few minutes to proof the article, see that here she had used it’s when she wanted its, there she wanted the word’s noun and not the verb form, and so on. 

I would have been more forgiving had the article been a blog post about, I dunno, politics, or food, or movies, or any number of other things. But when your article purports to be educating about the finer points of writing and publishing, you had bloody well better proofread the damn thing before you publish it. 

Or find a grammar Nazi to do it for you.