This may initially seem like a rant from the “grammar police”, but please bear with me – I’d like to point out an article that offers lessons for any of us who need to talk to the public, online or by other digital means:
I’ve found my share of typos on this blog and elsewhere, and will continue to fix them as soon as possible. But I’m one person running a small business, and I don’t currently have additional editors. So a post on CNN’s website caught me by surprise this morning. I could chalk this post up to the fact that it was Word Nerd Day yesterday, but it also presents a teaching moment for DIY marketing, which is a big part of what most of us do.
First, Kate Maltby’s untangling of the current brouhaha at Buckingham Palace is genuinely useful, even with her own stated biases. She outlines financial and legal details about this situation that many of us have not understood in all of the flurry this week. But my post is not really about Megan and Harry, as much as I wish them well. Maltby’s essay serves as an excellent example of the importance of the “second set of eyes” principle (i.e. always have someone else look at your work). It’s also a reminder that errors happen to all of us at some point. Let’s dive into that dichotomy, shall we?
Ms. Maltby’s explanation of what’s really going on with Harry and Meghan is illuminating, and cuts through some of the ridiculous hype that’s being posted elsewhere. But to avoid pot-and-kettle references, CNN’s opinionator should probably have proofed her own writing a little more carefully before including the remark that the Sussexes’ new website “bore all the marks of hasty copy-editing.” A casual read of her own post found multiple missed and wrong words, as if she spoke the whole piece into voice recognition and only checked for spelling. For instance,
In British schools, we’re taught to curtsey to royals if we’re every “lucky” enough to meet them..
…they hadn’t honored her enough to agree a news release strategy…
These are not earth-shattering problems, and could even be Brit-isms that I’m not privy to. (Is leaving out the prepositions now a thing?) I’ve deliberately left out a couple of others, as they are even more minor, or are simple punctuation errors. No need to browbeat anyone for a missing space here and there.
Let’s be fair
There are a few ways to look at this. First, this is the kind of thing that is found on almost every website in the world (including this one). Mistakes really do happen to everyone
Second, since this is an opinion piece, it’s entirely possible that CNN declined to edit her words, or even her punctuation, at all. And the opportunity to submit an opinion for CNN might have been either so exciting or so quick that Ms. Maltby and her editors simply didn’t proof her work very well.
Third, there is hope that we can all relate, and if big organizations like CNN and writers for The Guardian are having issues like this, then the rest of us should probably give ourselves a break.
However, this is also a reminder that we all need to pay attention. Indeed, much in life is an annoying cluster of truths.
The artist’s takeaway
Most of us are self-promoting, and don’t have a staff to back us up. So you have to take full responsibility of the messages that you send, in whatever form.
Make sure that your own copy is solid before you send it out. Present yourself in a way you can be really proud of. Find a buddy who writes reasonably well and ask them to read through your new web page before you publish it. Give your emails and social media posts a second and third reading before you send them into the world.
As much as rapid-fire journalism and the whirlwind of digital life have changed the way that we read, absorb and judge both formal and casual writing, accuracy still factors into the way you are viewed by your fellow professionals. Getting it right is worth the effort, and a few quick moments of focus can save you a lot of the cumulative effect of glaring errors over the course of a career. If you write well, people will think better of you. If your prose is often riddled with mistakes, it will slowly tear at your credibility. Such as life, even in the digital age.
So if you want to be taken seriously, particularly in a field that expects a high level of education and training, then the words you have presumably chosen do matter. And it only takes a minute or so to make sure that what you have written is actually what you wanted to express.
Now, come on, confess: how many of you have been rigorously coming through this post to make sure I chased out all of the bugs? You can bet that I’ve read this particular post at least seven times before I hit Publish. If you can find a significant error that was truly unintentional, contact me. I’ll send the first person with a right answer a really big cookie.