Freelance Writer Directory

What Your Writing Says about You

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on September 1, 2011 in Grammar & ESL
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Nobody’s perfect, but most of try to get as close as possible, at least in our writing. Over the years, I’ve developed a laidback approach to the grammar and spellings of others, probably because I’m bombarded with bad spelling mistakes and grammar choices on any given day. Unlike many other writers, I also feel there are markets for all sorts of writing – including the stuff that barely counts as a complete sentence.

Markets aside, the way you write does make a difference in how you relate to your client and to your audience. In short – spelling counts, but it doesn’t always count against you.

Purposeful Misspellings

Most of us would look at a sales page and immediately critique the writing. Any misspelled words would jump out at us and bother us just a bit. But then, if it’s very possible that the wrong “your” or the missing comma are intentional rather than oversights. It really just boils down to the target market that sales page is trying to reach.

I would hazard a guess that most of you reading this are well-educated. You likely read on a post-graduate level. Sadly the average buyer does not. Newspapers are written somewhere between a fourth and sixth grade reading level, and that might be aiming a bit high for the majority of internet buyers who can’t be troubled to read the paper (or even real news) at all.

Savvy sellers who are marketing to this demographic know this, and they do their best to make the sales letter or landing page approachable. A casual grammatical or spelling error might just be the thing that makes the reader think, “Hey! I can never figure out how to spell that either – this must be a real story from a real person!” Does it happen? Sure. How often does it happen? That’s more debatable.

Typos and Misspellings

Go back through my posts and you’ll see that I make plenty of typos and have more than a few spelling mistakes that I haven’t caught despite by best efforts. I’m not perfect and I fully realize that I would benefit strongly from a live-in editor. Like most of us, I can find your mistakes much better than I can find mine.


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I work hard to catch my mistakes, however, because I know that there are implications to poor grammar choices and bad punctuation. I usually go back and correct things I’ve overlooked if I find them later, because there’s always something I can improve. Usually I just hope it’s not silly typos I’ve overlooked more than once.

The “average” reader might not care if I use the wrong word or forget a semi-colon, but the educated reader will care a great deal, and they will lose faith with the material as a whole. This is true not just with copywriting materials, but with articles, blogs and even simple forum posts as well.

Writer Standards

When you advertise yourself as a writer or editor, you’re opening yourself up to constant criticism and observation. Every sentence you write that carries your signature or your byline is subject to scrutiny – as much as we wish that wasn’t the case. If you’ve been around for any length of time on a forum, you’ve probably seen writers called out on bad spelling or bad punctuation – not by other writers, but by would-be clients.

Sadly I had a fun typo on in one of my very first sales posts and was immediately called out on it by a potential client. Fortunately I was able to use a bit of professionalism and humor to dig my way out of the mess quickly and still land plenty of new gigs with that post, but that moment of embarrassment has stayed with me. As writers, we’re supposed to be at the top of the word game. Does that mean we can’t make a mistake? Of course not. You might even join the throng of copywriters who make mistakes on purpose.

But it’s always important to remember that intentional or not, the quality of your writing is always sending a message. If you’re going to goof – be sure you know you’re goofing up and always be sure to own any mistakes or revisions gracefully.

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

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5 Comments

  1. alan1018 September 1, 2011 Reply

    Hi Rebecca,

    I really enjoyed your article and agree with you on every level. Even though I use two spell checks, two grammar checks and two plagiarism checks plus have on hand a dictionary and thesaurus I still sometimes submit copy that has an error. I even have a live-in editor, my wife, who also proofs my work – and yep, she misses minor errors on occasion too.

    For the tools I use please visit:: http://writetheweb.webs.com/apps/blog/

    Again, great piece!
    Alan

  2. Julie Turner November 17, 2011 Reply

    What a great post for anyone to read. How and what you write sends important messages. Even on Twitter!

  3. David R. George January 17, 2012 Reply

    It’s true that none of us is perfect, and we all would do well to have someone else check our copy, particularly if one is submitting grammatical advice online. For example, in the first sentence of your blog, you leave out the word “us.”

    Under the heading “Typos and Misspellings,” in the second paragraph beginning “I work hard, you have two complete thoughts separated only by commas. Either place a period after “mistakes” and begin the next sentence with a cap H, or insert a semicolon after mistakes.

    I caught these while browsing your copy and did not actually “proof” it. I cite these not merely to be a smartass, but to emphasize what you’ve already pointed out. I’ve been an editor for more than 40 years, publishing my first novel, “Stardust Dads,” several years ago. My wife and co-author has also had considerable proofreading and editorial experience. As you can imagine, we went over and over our manuscript dozens and dozens of times, and STILL were amazed to find typos and other mistakes. I think the answer is, the more eyes on the copy, the better.

  4. David R. George January 17, 2012 Reply

    Oops! I reread your column and realized I misunderstood what you wrote under the heading, “Typos and Misspellings.” Chalk it up to my aging eyes that told me a period was a comma. My bad. And my apologies.

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