6 Reasons Why Grammar Still Matters in the Digital Age


Andrew Hindes

The written word has staged an astonishing comeback over the past decade. After years of hand-wringing about its impending demise, writing is once again an unavoidable part of our daily lives, thanks to ubiquitous digital technologies such as e-mail, texting, social media and blogging software. In fact, we communicate through written text more today than at any time in the history of mankind.

But the use of these digital tools has also changed how we write. Much of our communication now takes the form of cryptic half-sentences packed with hashtags, LOLs, smiley faces and the other shorthand devices we use to shoehorn a coherent thought into a hastily thumb-typed 140-character tweet or a 160-character text.

Which raises the question: Do grammar and punctuation still matter when it comes to writing press materials? In other words, do PR professionals really need to worry about whether the period goes inside or outside the quotation marks when crafting an e-mail pitch?

The answer, at least for now, is a resounding yes.

But why is this so? Journalistic style has become increasingly casual and conversational, and the demands of the 24-hour news cycle mean that online media outlets tend to shoot first and copyedit later—if ever. Bloggers and social media pundits are often even more lax in their adherence to standard writing conventions.

Despite these changes, the basic rules of usage, punctuation and style are still observed by most major publications, and PR pros flout them at their own peril.

Here are six reasons these seemingly antiquated rules are still important in the digital age:

  1. Credibility: Press materials with grammatical errors indicate ignorance or carelessness on the part of the writer, which may cause journalists to question the accuracy of the content.

  2. Professionalism: Similarly, sloppily written materials can create a negative impression on clients and corporate higher-ups.

  3. Respect: Underpaid and overworked journalists may resent receiving a document filled with errors that would earn them a stern rebuke from the copy desk.

  4. Clarity: Grammar and punctuation errors can result in ambiguities or misunderstandings.

  5. Convenience: Harried journalists often opt to copy whole sentences or even paragraphs of PR materials verbatim. If your grammatical gaffe slips through, it makes them look bad.

  6. Posterity: Press materials distributed across the Internet live on forever—along with any mistakes they contain.

Someday, technology may make grammar—or even language as we know it—obsolete. Until then, being meticulous in your writing reflects well on you as a professional and increases your chances of getting media coverage for your company or clients.


Andrew Hindes is president of Los Angeles-based PR and marketing copywriting firm The In-House Writer as well as a sought-after business writing coach and instructor. He can be reached at andrew@theinhousewriter.com. You can follow him on Twitter @inhousewriter.

 




41 Comments

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  • Amanda Stebbing

    A resounding “hear hear” from me.

  • Brandon

    Just above the list, you used the word “flaunt” incorrectly. Flaunt means to show off something. I think you meant “forego” or something similar. Certainly, we see your point on credibility in effect here.

  • Mark Williams

    I think you mean ‘flout’. It’s a common error

  • vanda killeen

    Writer should have used ‘flout’ which means to ‘treat with contemptuous disregard.’

  • PR News

    Flaunt can also mean “to treat contemptuously” according to Merriam-Webster. But certainly forego would work just as well.

  • OK

    3rd para ‘Does grammar and punctuation still matter…’

    Should have read: ‘Do grammar and punctuation still matter…’

  • PR News

    Thanks OK. That’s been fixed.

  • Richard Street

    PR hoist (sic: NOT hoisted)by his own petard. I do feel a tinge of sympathy for Andrew: such mistakes are easy to make, and usually discovered immediately after hitting Enter. Nevertheless, and to mix metaphors, people who live in glass houses have to be whiter than white.

  • Alex Lekas

    how embarrassing that such an article even has to be written. Whether the venue is social media or traditional channels, the communication profession hikes a leg on its own credibility when grammar becomes passe.

  • Andrew Hindes

    Thanks to all who caught my misuse of the word “flaunt.” It has been changed to “flout.” I stand corrected!

  • Alex Lekas

    What a sad commentary that this issue even has to be raised.

  • Peter Corbett

    I’ve been preaching this for years so good on you, Andrew, However, with all due respect to him, can I PLEASE urgeeveryone not to use Americamisms. For example, can we please not use visitwith when we mean visit, meet with when we mean meet and so on, Know wha’ I mean?

  • Claude Adams

    Undergrad: “Can you tells me where the library’s at?” Senior: “Here at Yale we never end a sentence with a preposition?” Undergrad: “Okay, where’s the library at, a**h***!”

  • Karen Bradford

    What stylebook are you using? I preach from AP: no hyphenated adverbs in a compound modifier (“sloppily-written materials”). I’m right with ‘ya, otherwise; my nickname from newspaper days being “The Grammar Bitch,” said with respect by people who wanted my initials on their work. (BTW, I once used “electrocuted” when I meant “shocked.” Oops. There are some mistakes I’ll make only once, right? Thanks for a wonderful article that I’ve already shared on FB.

  • Dawn

    Interesting that the reasons are the same reasons grammar has *always* been important. Nothing’s changed at all, in spite of so many people wishing it has. BTW, Andrew, those grammatical errors OK so kindly pointed out? That’s Muphry’s Law… “Whenever a writer writes about the importance of grammar, or mocks or corrects someone else’s grammar, the writing WILL include a grammatical error or typo!” :) Thanks for saying what, sadly, needs to be said! Good post!

  • D. Tobin

    Of course grammar matters…always. My question is what goes with the “one upmanship” (or upwomanship)? Read the article, not edit it. Let’s learn from one another humbly and without trying to make our peers feel inferior.

  • Barb Sawyers

    Rules that help us understand are more important than ever. Those that don’t can go. Like the one against sentence fragments. Let’s focus on the important ones.

  • Christopher Bacey

    Awesome. Great points. I will save and share with colleagues and clients alike. Glad to know grammar is still relevant — despite those who say it is not.

  • Bob Fick

    It’s about time someone try to reclaim the high ground for proper grammar. Thank you

  • Jonah

    Re: 5. Convenience: Harried journalists often opt to copy whole sentences or even paragraphs of PR materials verbatim. If your grammatical gaffe slips through, it makes them look bad.

    I thought “copy[ing] whole sentences or even paragraphs…verbatim” was called plagiarizing. While I endeavor to ensure that press releases I send out are as perfect as possible, it’s not my concern if a grammatical error makes the journalist “look bad.” I think the one at fault is the journalist who is too lazy to proofread what he’s stealing.

  • Gerry

    Jonah – how can a journalist being “stealing” something you’ve given to them? I take it as a compliment if a press release is copied verbatim.
    Dawn – is the MUPHRY’S law intentional irony?

  • Peter Brown

    This is a North American “thing”. The English and French take great pride in their ability to craft correct sentences, the Quebecois (French) and the American take even greater pride in playing with their prose. Exporting your language tends to make it unsanitary apprently.

  • Andrew Hindes

    I understand your point Jonah, however, I believe that part of a PR pro’s job in sending out press materials is to help journalists do their job. When you distribute a press release you are giving journalists permission to use its content however they see fit (so there is no plagiarism involved). And if they choose to reprint parts or all of it wholesale, all the better for you and your client. There is no advantage to making a journalist look bad, especially one who has chosen to run your story!

  • Dianne

    Thanks for sharing a frustration felt by many of us. I am appalled by all the typos and grammatical errors in social media. Bravo!

  • Romina

    Parole Sante!!
    Credibilità, professionalità, rispetto, chiarezza questi valori passano anche attraverso la (tanto bistrattata) grammatica.
    Come dice l’autore dell’articolo… quello che va sul web…. resta per sempre, errori di ortografia compresi ;)

  • Nic Perrins

    At last!!! This article has given me the faith to carry on whinging about the hideous misuse of our beloved apostrophe and the laziness with which people abuse our language. I am proud to write the way I do and will continue to pull people up on their mistakes. It may be an irritating quality of mine, but I make no apologies. I judge people on the way they write, so I assume there are others out there who do too. It does matter – I’m with Bob Fick. PUNCTUATE WITH PRIDE PEOPLE!

  • Wordwright

    Yes, it’s not the media; it’s the message after all. And if that message is poorly written, it reflects poorly on its messenger–regardless of the medium.

  • Kristen Sukalac

    I agree that well written documents reflect well on the author and subject. However, I work in an international milieu and am more tolerant of less-then-perfect writing because I know many of the people I deal with are writing in a second language. However, this post got me thinking about the evolution of alphabets and efficiency of communication in the digital age, and you inspired a blog post: http://ksukalac.posterous.com/does-the-digital-age-mark-a-turning-point-for

  • Sian

    Interesting piece, want to tweet but talking of style and grammar, I think it is now common practice to use sentence case for titles? Otherwise, enjoying this and will definitely use it as defence!

  • Annachiara

    literally “well said”!

  • Logan Bradford

    While, I absolutely agree with the points Andrew makes in this article, I find it both embarrassing and ironic that even this article contains typos. I suppose it’s a further testament to the necessity of a grammatical and editing reform.

  • Andrew Hindes

    Thanks Sian. Issues such as headline style tend to be matters of institutional convention. PR News (as well as The New York Times and many other respected publications) use “title case”–capitalizing all major words—for article headlines. Some other publications use sentence case. I would suggest that what’s most important when dealing with issues like this, about which reasonable people can disagree, is to pick a style and apply it consistently.

  • Sallie Bolich

    Grammatical errors are abundant today. Just another result of the lowering of standards reviewed in the book, WHAT AMERICA LOST: Decades That Made A Difference. Perhaps this seems unimportant to many, but it represents losses that ultimately do matter.

  • Gloria L.

    These comments are hilarious and make my day.

  • Valerie Moran

    Andrew, As I read through and enjoy your comments it comes to mind, there is nothing finer than a gracious response to a critic. You sir are a gentleman

  • Andrew Hindes

    Why, thank you, Valerie!

  • Gladys

    Isn’t saying, “Reasons WHY” (in the title) grammatically redundant? :)

  • TOM

    Hurried* not “harried” check your own grammar dude.

    • Lucia Davis

      Actually Tom, the definition of harried is “feeling strained as a result of having demands persistently made on one; harassed.”

    • Landon

      You’re already on the internet, Tom. If you don’t know what a word means, just google it. It’ll take 30 seconds and will save lots of “foot in mouth” moments like this one.

  • Debbie Martinez

    I need help, I joined a group which helps raise money and collect toys for children, some have called the group.Toys In Da Hood, other’s.Toys In The Hood. Which is correct and why?