What do M&M’s, rock stars and good grammar have in common? More than you might think. Back when Van Halen began playing stadium shows, their contract rider famously called for a bowl of M&M’s in their dressing room – with absolutely no brown M&M’s.
This story is often used as an example of rock and roll diva behavior, but the truth is that it was an ingenious safety measure. David Lee Roth explained in his biography that if the band got to the dressing room and found brown M&M’s, they knew that the promoters hadn’t read the rider thoroughly. This tipped off Diamond Dave that the elaborate staging, the electrical system and all of the other technical specifics of the show were also suspect and possibly unsafe.
Bad grammar is like brown M&M’s for your marketing. It makes you look sloppy, and it’s a red flag about your professionalism.
When you’re writing for the Web, it’s easy to get messy about grammar and spelling. It’s simple – maybe too simple – to just hit “publish” and send something into cyberspace without a thorough review. (It’s not just business blogs and websites. Print material is even more important because it’s permanent).
We know how it is: you’re updating your website in a big hurry, so you make a typo here and dangle a modifier there, and you don’t think much of it. When you do this, though, it’s obvious to your readers that you didn’t take a few minutes to check your professional work. Each stray apostrophe or misspelled word is a little chip in your image.
So how can you be sure your writing is as professional as you are? First, have someone look over your writing before you publish it. Of course, it helps if that person is good with writing and grammar, but it’s useful simply to have a fresh pair of eyes looking over your work. Nobody’s perfect. In fact, you might even find an error in this post. But take some time to avoid errors when you can.
Remember that spell check is great but not infallible. It can’t tell the difference between discreet and discrete, baited and bated, or Wales and whales. Check and double-check your work for spelling and for commonly confused words. (And turn off Office grammar check; it’s only good for adding confusion.)
A Few To Watch
Make sure you have no improperly used versions of they’re/their/there or instances of your/you’re confusion. Those are some of the most obvious errors to readers. Another common mistake is apostrophe use. Here’s a quick primer: Use an apostrophe after a noun to make either a possessive (Joe’s boat) or a contraction (Joe’s going to to the store, a contraction of “Joe is going to the store”). Don’t use apostrophes to make pronouns possessive (hers, its, theirs). But you do use an apostrophe when you want to make a pronoun into a contraction (It’s raining, you’re late, they’re happy). And never use an apostrophe to make a noun or a pronoun plural, except when it’s necessary for clarity. So “cross the t’s and dot the i’s” is acceptable but “I have two dog’s” is not.
Need more advanced help? Hit the bookstore. We’re a Web design company, which means the majority of our work is online. But we’ve still got paper-and-ink copies of the old Webster’s dictionary and the “Associated Press Stylebook” kicking around our office, and some of us even use them.
If you need help with grammar, you won’t find anything online that’s as helpful as an old-school copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” although the OWL at Purdue is a close second. Everything you write – whether a client is going to see it or not – should get at least a once-over for punctuation, capitalization and spelling (and yes, this includes your social media updates).
Content that will be published online or used in a marketing campaign should get the fine-toothed-comb treatment and be read by at least two people. Finally, always think of your writing as a reflection on your company. Just as you wouldn’t go to a meeting in ripped jeans and flip flops, you shouldn’t publish or send sloppy writing.
In addition to being a NH Web design company, we’re also a full-service creative agency. We can help write and edit your blog posts, press releases, Web content and more, so get in touch. You can also check out our Facebook and Twitter pages. (And in case you’re wondering, we only eat orange M&M’s).
Custom illustration by Vital lead designer Jesse Rand.