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Blog Struggles: When Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Interferes With Your Blogging

Blog Struggles badgeDiscussing the challenges associated with blogging, a participant in a program I presented recently told me about how she tends to obsess over punctuation.

My friends tell me I need to read that book, Eat, Shoots, and Leaves about punctuation. I’m obsessed with commas and ellipses. I love using them. I like how they sound when I read them out loud. I like how they make my writing look. It’s like I’m blogging how I think. It’s like I’m writing like how I feel. It’s like writing poetry. It makes my boring words sound better.

While she may think that, she also complains that no one reads her stuff. If she writes like she talks, and uses punctuation accordingly, then no wonder her blog is so hard to read.

In Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog, I wrote about how the CEO of a company was coerced into writing the first blog post on their new corporate blog, and how readers attacked him for his excessive use of ellipses in his writing. In the post, he openly admits that he was just writing off the top of his head, and that he wasn’t very good, nor comfortable, writing. His writing skills are not what made his company one of the largest in the world.

It took a lot of courage for him to write and publish that blog post. Yes, someone in the company should have edited it before it was released, but they wanted an “open” and “transparent” communications tool with their blog, so they didn’t dare edit the boss’ post. Should they? It’s too late now. What’s done is done. Readers aren’t always so forgiving when it comes to bad writing.

There are times when spelling, grammar, and punctuation interferes with your blogging from the reader’s perspective. Then there are times when your own obsession with spelling, grammar, and punctuation interferes with your ability to blog.

Obsessed With The Written Word

I know several bloggers who blog in English not because they are fluent, but in spite of that. They want to improve their English, and a blog is a fantastic learning tool.

One friend has two dictionaries and two thesauruses, one set for each language, that sit beside her as she writes on her blog. If she can’t remember a word, or how to get the idea across, she’ll hit her native language dictionary or thesaurus and look it up. If it isn’t there, she’ll think of a close approximation of the word in English and then look it up in English to find the word she really wants. It can take two hours for her to write a blog post as she struggles to learn the language as she blogs.

Watching a client work on his new blog, I spotted him copying and pasting it into Microsoft Word repeatedly. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t trust the spell checker on Firefox. I want to make sure I’ve spelled everything right and the grammar is correct.”

“Okay, but isn’t once enough?”

“No. Every time I make an edit, I want to make sure I haven’t missed anything.”

It took him an hour to write a five paragraph blog post while I sat next to him, biting my tongue. Luckily, he was paying and I had to do nothing to earn my hourly fee but sit and bite.

There is a price to be paid when blogging not in your native language or becoming obsessed with the words you are about to publish. You may think that publishing posts on your blog is fun and easy, but to many, the concept of publishing is serious business. It has to be right – absolutely right – before they hit the Publish button.

However, there has to be balance.

Finding the Compromise Between Perfectionism and Efficiency

When I opened my Blogging Tips book fresh from the printers and found misspelled words and missing words right in the first few pages, I hid in a corner and wanted to scream and cry at the same time. The last three days before the book went to the publisher at the end of three nightmare weeks to create the book from scratch and deal with constant changes in the page count and concept, of course there would be errors. How could there not be errors without a time-consuming and serious last edit and review, for which there was no time?

Now, I have to live with the consequences. Me, major spelling obsessed. The sole reason I got involved in the , the online manual for WordPress Users, was because I was sick and tired of seeing “separate” misspelled as “seperate”. Look where that led.

Yes, look where that led? I only fixed a few annoying misspellings in the WordPress Codex, then soon I was editing and contributing articles to it. Then I had a whole blog dedicated to WordPress. See, you never know where a mistake along your path, be it a spelling mistake or otherwise, will lead.

There must be a compromise between perfectionism and efficiency, as well as peace of mind. Unlike a book, newspaper, or magazine, a blog is editable. It can be fixed. It can be repaired. It can be improved. So why stress out over things that are changeable, when there is so much more to stress over that can’t be changed?

When we obsess over minutia, it takes energy away – energy we need elsewhere in our lives. Energy we need in our blogs.

For the most part, readers are fairly forgiving. I’m sure that I’ve messed up plenty with my “grammer” that my readers let slip by. But when I make a big mistake, my readers correct me.

At WordCamp 2007, John Dvorak and Om Malik both agreed that they have long passed the point where they worry about making mistakes on their blogs. Dvorak admitted that this was a great way to start a conversation. Someone corrects you, having the courage to comment, and then you respond back. Anything to start the conversation ball rolling.

Constantly work at improving your blog writing skills, but lighten up on the panic attacks over every word you write. Put that energy into your blog content as a whole.

It’s amazing how much we will forgive when the point is powerful.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

8 Comments

  1. Posted October 29, 2007 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    v. interesting post. i am paranoid about a spelling mistake sneaking in, into a blog post or a badly constructed sentence finding its way inside. more than anything, i think, it stops the reader, changes the focus from the ‘meaning’ or ‘thought’ in the sentence or the paragraph, to the mistake. makes the reader forget what was being read.

    and agree with you, blogs allow for edits as many times. So a mistake might get seen by a couple of readers, but you may be able to present a better post to the others!

  2. Posted October 29, 2007 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    This brings up a question of blogging etiquette that I’ve been wondering about. Some bloggers strike through instead of deleting errors and edits, while some apparently don’t edit once an article is published. Personally, I would like to just discretely make edits and improve the post – as long as it isn’t misleading. Is this OK, or is it bad form?

  3. Posted October 29, 2007 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Lorelle – congrats on the book. I look forward to reading and writing about it on my blog, called…Writes Like She Talks. :) LOL – it really is. And when people meet me, they say I really do write like I talk. As for how many readers I have, not as many as some people who do read the blog think I have. But I’m doing very nicely as a freelance writer and political blogger so…maybe I talk and write with fewer ellipses than most people??

    I don’t really know! But thanks for your great blog – I’ve used it several times since moving to WordPress a couple of months ago. I hope you make a little money out of all the effort you’ve put in re: WordPress tips etc.

  4. Posted October 29, 2007 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    David LaFerney: It’s your blog. Edit at will. Strikeouts leave the text, which also sends a message that this was changed, and implies many things, which can be interpreted in many ways. This leaves things to chance interpretations, sending mixed signals. I constantly edit and fix comments on my blog, if the comment deserves it. If I leave it as it is, then it’s also a comment about my feelings about the comment: Stupid is as stupid does. :D

    Jill: If people like what and how you say things, and that follows through with your blog, wonderful. The issue is whether or not the way a blogger writes really does a good job of representing themselves and their content online.

    The art of writing is a talent and a skill, one that is constantly developed and honed. I’m always learning and studying, and learning more, about all aspects of writing. It gives me joy to find new ways of making my point with this tangle of words on the web. WEEEE!

  5. Posted October 29, 2007 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I probably lean a bit toward the perfectionist side on my blogs, but I would encourage readers to be tolerant. One of the pleasures of blogs is the opportunity to read folks who may not be precisely articulate in English, either because it’s not their first language, or they are education or learning disabled. But there are gems out there, misspelled and incorrect though they may be.

    Re: editing — I usually make a note, or use the strike-out, if I’m making a substantial change to a post. But if the change is made for spelling, grammar, or clarity — I just sneak in and do it. I think the issue is honesty and transparency with your readers, so that should be the measure.

  6. Posted October 29, 2007 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    The librarians in my university all know me by name because I am always “the one” telling them about spelling and grammar mistakes on notices that they put up.

    I admit that I am a spelling and grammar nazi at times, but I just couldn’t bear to look at the same mistakes each time I visit the library, especially when they were seen in the library!

  7. Posted November 8, 2007 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I’d rather not make spelling mistakes on purpose, just to ignite a conversation. I hate spelling mistakes. On the other hand, I don’t bother to spend too much time on grammar perfection.

  8. Posted November 11, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I naturally find when I’m writing blog posts that I use quite a lot of commas to break up my text. I suppose I use to to create the feel of the spoken word and to inject a bit of energy into my writing. Sometimes I’ll use very short sentences. But my blog is meant to be fairly informal and honest.

    Correct spelling (British) and grammar is still of paramount importance for me though. You won’t find any text-speak on my blog! Anyhow, great blog post, thanks!


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  16. […] Blog Struggles: When Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Interferes With Your Blogging looks at the issues around the impact of poor writing habits and skills and whether or not they impact the success and reading of your blog. […]

  17. […] Blog Struggles: When Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Interferes With Your Blogging looks at the issues around the impact of poor writing habits and skills and whether or not they impact the success and reading of your blog. […]

  18. […] Blog Struggles: When Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Interferes With Your Blogging looks at the issues around the impact of poor writing habits and skills and whether or not they impact the success and reading of your blog. […]

  19. […] Blog Struggles: When Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation Interferes With Your Blogging looks at the issues around the impact of poor writing habits and skills and whether or not they impact the success and reading of your blog. […]

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