Why checking your spelling and grammar is important

fairy blog mother cropThis is a very controversial subject. I know I shall probably be stepping on a lot of people’s toes.

But I don’t care. I’ve always maintained that good spelling and grammar is essential in communication tactics, and blogging is certainly part of that activity!

Now I’m not going to give you a lesson in how to spell properly or which grammar is acceptable. There are plenty of good books available in many formats and styles. You are the best person to find the one that’s most appropriate for you.

If you want me to recommend a fun and humorous book about spelling, you can’t do better than “Eats Shoots and Leaves” by Lynn Truss. Here’s an Amazon link to her books: http://amzn.to/16teWOi – and nope, this isn’t an affiliate link.

I’ve created one of my purple Infographics to explain why spelling is so important on your blog:

77 examples how bad spelling ruins your writing and blogging

Isn’t it part of the curriculum now?

Now I expect many of you with school aged children will be aware of the changes in how Literacy is taught in schools.

Mr Gove may have been and gone, but his legacy remains. He was appalled at the quality of writing, in particular spelling, grammar and sentence construction, from school pupils.

Now he may be a bit old-fashioned (!), but he did have a point. The quality of writing has been in decline. And this is because spelling hasn’t been taught properly.

And this is because the teachers haven’t been taught properly. I remember sitting in my English ‘O’ Level classes (yes, I’m that old!) bemused at the way my teacher was teaching spelling and grammar to my 16-year old class mates, and thinking that she was doing it all wrong!

How did I learn about spelling and grammar?

Well, as I child I was dyslexic. (I suppose I still am, but have learned to hide it better.) This made me try all the harder to understand what I was reading.

I read voraciously. I really concentrated on what was on the page in front of me, analysing why it was so and how it affected the rest of the words in the book. (Another thing to note was that in the 1970s books were properly edited and checked before being published.)

And because of my dyslexia I used my memory to retain this information. I noticed similar grammatical examples in other books, and noted how they worked. As it began to make sense to me, I applied it to my everyday world (commas should be natural breathing spaces, semicolons are a bit longer but not as long as a full stop, colons go before a list or statement, apostrophes mark the possession of things or if a letter is missing, etc).

Spelling was a little different. But I noticed anomalies and quirks in the English language and retained that information too. Nowadays I’m helped enormously by my computer providing suggestions for me if those little red dots appear underneath my misspelled words.

I suppose my main criteria was not having a life elsewhere to distract me, and this allowed me to focus on words and reading. If you really want to understand something, you will. If partying and socialising is much more fun, you won’t want to bother with spelling and stuff like that, it’s far too boring.

But isn’t the English language changing?

Yes it is, and how we communicate is too. Blogging and social media have transformed the way we talk to each other, and in some cases prevents us from actually ‘speaking’ to each other any more.

For example, if I want to call my daughter down to eat her tea, I text her. If I physically go upstairs to tell her, I get shouted at for disturbing her, and if I tried to call her, her phone goes straight to voicemail. (And I also get ridiculed for writing my texts in full, including capital initials, punctuation, grammar, etc. And for using my finger rather than my thumbs.)

And it happens elsewhere. Rather than picking up the phone to my colleagues, it’s emails and iMessaging from my iPad. I suppose it’s all about convenience and not disturbing the other, who responds when it is OK for her to do so.

What I’m driving at is: the way we communicate, even verbally, has become distorted. OK, thank goodness we don’t talk that they do in Jane Austen’s books, it would drive us all mad! Time is at a premium, information is instant, expectations are immediate, so our spelling methods have changed to suit the modern age.

But the questions are: should all of this be transported into the way we write? Is it OK to use text speak, abbreviated words, slang and street talk, uniform spelling, etc?

What about conversations?

Of course the language we use, how we construct sentences, where and what we emphasise, and which elements receive the most focus, will be reflected in how we write. Blogging should be a conversation with our readers, and therefore needs to resemble a transcription of what we would say. It isn’t going to be grammatically correct; if it did, it would bore the pants of us.

Sentences have become shorter. Full stops take the place of commas or semicolons. There’s no denying this is an American influence, but we really ought (or should) retain our sense of spelling priority and bring it back to the fore.

Mr Gove may be forcing kids to write and spell properly again (with much of this going against the grain), but a decent education needs to be able to be transferred into the world of work. Even the universities are complaining that so many of their students don’t include correct spelling or grammatical sentences in their essays any more.

And there is a nationwide problem of kids not reading enough. Which is ironic, because there is all this wonderful reading material available to them nowadays; much more than when I was young, and had to cope with reading books like Jane Eyre or Little Women.

The simple act of communicating with correct spelling can only maintain, if not increase, our social standing, credibility, trustworthiness, writing ability and expertise throughout the blogosphere. Isn’t it a sacrifice worth making?

What do you think about this?

There, I’ve finished my rant. Now what’s yours?

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About Alice Elliott

Alice Elliott, aka Fairy Blog Mother, is an award winning blogging consultant who has been looking after bloggers since 2006! Woah, that’s a long time! She specialises in “explaining things really simply” about WordPress, and has twice been noted as a top WordPress influencer for 2019.

13 Comments

  1. 06 February 2015 / 18:16

    I’m so glad you’ve written this, and it’s come from a blogging expert. Poor spelling and grammar in blogs drives me insane, and it’s just poor sloppy work. Either being careless, or not using sense and the resources that are available nowadays.

    I was never taught grammar at school, like you I just read a lot, and had a mother who was a stickler for good english too. It wasn’t until learning french at secondary school that I could relate the grammar in that to english language.

    Fine some people struggle, but then they need to accept they struggle and find a way round it. I’m astounded that some brands will work with bloggers who have sloppily written blogs.

    • 06 February 2015 / 21:20

      Thanks Emma for your comment. It seems that many of us were failed by our English teachers, so it’s no wonder that there seems to be so many bloggers who can’t spell or are grammatically incorrect.

      My mother is not a good speller (hence why my sister’s spelling is absolutely awful), and my father has dyslexia so his writing is very interesting! My mother blames her small vocabulary from her mother, who was Dutch by birth. Actually it is because she has only read one novel in her life!

      The answer is to read – a lot. And take care and notice what you read. And make sure it is worth while, and not just magazines and comics which so many of my school friends were prone to read.

  2. 07 February 2015 / 21:38

    When I was age 10, my teacher told me, in no uncertain terms, to never write again until I could spell and ‘do’ grammar. Prior to this I had read extensively and written poetry and stories.
    “Wham”. Her comment stopped me in my tracks.
    I stopped writing as told. I really worked and worked on my spelling & grammar.
    At age 45 I was tested and the results showed I am markedly dyslexic. This test was when I was completing my post graduate masters. Too late for ‘dyslexic’ to count towards my ‘scores’.
    ‘Reading a lot’ does nothing to improve spelling. I’m a testimony
    My English teachers didn’t let me down either. I was a bright child, an atypical presentation.
    My skill was learning strategies, ways to work round my deficit.
    Just as my red/green color blind son used to paint in shades of red and green and brown.
    Spelling & grammar are not the foundation of a good blog. They are not signs of someone being sloppy or being careless either.
    A good blog should have the narrative of the author, their own authentic voice.

    If we put in the barrier of “dont write until you can spell or do grammar”, then at least 16% of adults in the UK would never publish. Why shouldn’t we listen to their story and accept that 5% of the adults in England have a reading level below the age of 11. In other words, they wouldn’t be able to read this http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/adult_literacy/illiterate_adults_in_england

    • 10 February 2015 / 12:29

      Thanks for your comment Jill. Real dyslexics do have trouble writing, and I believe these people will spend more time in learning about spelling and grammar than others. But to tell a child to stop writing is cruel. It’s like the music teacher telling a child to stop singing because they are out of tune.

      But I believe you can easily tell if someone is dyslexic compared to someone who hasn’t learned how to spell or use grammar properly. The mixing up of letters is a totally different affair than blatantly getting it wrong. I know, because I can read what my father and brother write, not to mention another good friend of mine, because what is presented on the page is definitely not sloppy or careless.

      Putting up a barrier saying don’t write until you know your spelling and grammar is not effective. What I mean is that people should pay much more attention to editing their posts before they publish. Not editing properly is sloppy, not knowing how to spell something that isn’t caught by the spell checker isn’t.

      And then there’s the subject of people whose first language isn’t English. Certainly allowances can be made here, as long as the situation is explained first.

  3. 08 February 2015 / 08:55

    I also took O level English back in the 1980s and do not recall any specific grammar lessons. When my daughter sat her year 6 SATs last year she was given a grammar revision sheet and I’m embarrassed to say I learnt things that I’d never known before!

    I’m still learning…. When in doubt I have found the Guardian style guide to grammar very useful: http://www.theguardian.com/info/series/guardian-and-observer-style-guide

    • 10 February 2015 / 12:33

      Thanks Christine. I also don’t remember any English grammar being taught to me at school, except for that tentative effort performed a few weeks before we took our O’Levels. My kids know far more about how English is put together. When they start to talk about prepositions and stuff like that, my poor brain freezes. My husband derides me for no knowing about grammar terms, and yet I can write as well as him.

      It’s good you are still learning – we can all benefit from that!

  4. 12 February 2015 / 16:31

    Fantastic! Couldn’t agree more.
    I went to a tiny village first school where there were only 30 pupils over four year groups. Our teacher was a stickler for this sort of thing, and with so few pupils, had enough time to bring us up to her desk and go through our work carefully, to show us the correct way to do things.
    I think what also helped was that I read a lot as a child, so I learned how a sentence should look and sound from that. I shiver when I see some writing with terrible spelling and grammar – some by school teachers!
    Also very interesting that you are/were dyslexic. Whenever I bring up the topic of spelling and grammar the stock response is “but what if you’re dyslexic and can’t!” to which my response usually is, being dyslexic doesn’t mean you can’t. As proved by you!

    Not sure if you’ve seen but a company has had a sponsored post on Facebook for several weeks now, advertising their “stationary offers.” You’d think, if someone’s going to go to the trouble of paying for sponsored posts, they would go to the trouble of learning the difference between stationary and stationery. Their deals aren’t going anywhere (boom boom)

    • 12 February 2015 / 17:19

      Thank you Single Mother Ahoy! (Fab name, by the way)

      You were very lucky to get such 1:1 treatment at school. Nowadays the classes are so big the teacher is unable to get round each child in turn. This is especially so in secondary school classes, and then the teacher will be battling against street speak and texting.

      There is no such thing as “can’t” in a dyslexic’s world. My brother got himself certified, since nobody else was going to do it for him, to prevent him having to retake another year at school. As a result he ended up with a 1st in his computing degree.

      I’ve seen lots of wonderful examples of bad spelling and grammar. Even today I read a newsletter by someone who didn’t understand the difference between “its” and “it’s”. And whenever I pop down town to get some bits, there’s this lovely cafe that specialises in baked potato’s, soup’s and sandwich’s.

  5. 17 February 2015 / 14:03

    I’m an absolute stickler for grammar – believe me, Alice, I think ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ merits a custodial sentence. But you have to tell a worthwhile story as well. I would far rather read a good story with bad grammar than dull prose with perfect grammar. Grammar can be corrected: the ability to tell a story people want to read is either there or it isn’t.

    • 17 February 2015 / 15:40

      Thank you Mark, and you are quite right.

      Let’s take the example of “50 Shades of Grey”. It’s a book that is hideously written, yet has become extremely successful and millions of women have enjoyed reading it.

      Does this mean it doesn’t matter how you write, as long as what you write is good? My argument is if the spelling and grammar is done well (along with the turn of phrase, vocabulary and sentence construction), your wonderful story is much more likely to be read by a larger audience.

      I haven’t read “50 Shades of Grey”. Not because I’m a prude (far from it), but after reading just half a page I was so put off by the horrible writing, the best place for it was the recycling bin.

  6. Fay
    25 February 2015 / 13:45

    You lost me at “loose your credibility” – shame really, as the article was going so well.

    • 10 March 2015 / 09:42

      Dear Fay, yes, other people have pointed out that mistake! We are all human, after all, and I am just as prone to the odd mishap. Trouble is, because it’s in an infographic, it’s not easily correctable. Someday I will redesign it and make extra care that correction is made.