“When a thought takes one’s breath away, a grammar lesson seems an impertinence.” -Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Good writing contains grammar, but grammar is never its master. The modern obsession with grammar is about fear, the fear of not making the cut, not getting the raise, not being understood by those who influence our livelihoods. Good writing should not be motivated by fear–unless you’re begging for your life and low on ink. Just as we learn to drive safely by mastering the rules of the road, we learn to write safely by mastering the rules of grammar. But an amazing driver–a professional competitive driver–is the master of a vehicle designed to do one thing above all else, to break the law in fantastic ways.
Is That Grammar Obsession Holding You Back?
In online content, we’re not writing the great American novel, a fact which pricks me off to no end. We’re selling your product, your service, your in-laws, in some cases. (Believe me, I’ve been at this for a while). In most cases, mere grammatical sufficiency is ideal. Perfect grammatical correctness can be too stuffy, too impersonal, or lack concision. All too often, writers are held to the Oxford standard when it is not desirable.
Frequently, you get a writer who makes a minor mistake, or an intentional and appropriate “mistake,” gets called on it and has a fit. Writers are temperamental animals. (What are you going to do about it? Therapy is too expensive.) This has caused the end of many a writer/client relationship. Often, it’s unnecessary. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that we are all afraid of being caught with our literary pants down.
For one thing, wherever a person is forced to read something, they’re looking for an excuse to stop reading it. Any good excuse to stop reading has to give the reader a claim to superiority over the writer. William S. Burroughs spoke poorly of Chess. He said it was boring. We excuse his impertinence because he wrote like a dyspeptic god. If your brother in law said Chess is boring, he’s obviously medically stupid in some way.
Anyone of average intelligence can spot a grammatical error. This enables us to claim superiority over the–probably undercompensated–writer and opt out of the reading. Congratulations, you just reclaimed five minutes of your life. You’re free to go play video games or check Twitter a hundred times.
Now, I’m not here top defend “there, they’re, their” errors–and I’ve nothing more to say about it. But there are other errors that are not true errors at all, and I stand as their hemorrhagic champion.
For example, it is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with the word ‘and’ as long as it is referencing a complete and proximal previous sentence. It is an informal and stylistic choice that does not necessarily interfere with good sense, does not interrupt the message, and has been done by many, many fine writers who require no defending by me.
There are many examples of errors that will catch red from computerized grammar checkers, a few of which are going to show up in the next sentence. Online grammar checkers are rapidly becoming the soulless soup nazis of the online content world. These mechanical meat-wits are frequently wrong. The problem is, even the best content writers will not be able to defend themselves when a client runs his work through a grammar checker which makes accusations the writer has already dismissed advisedly.
I Fought the Logos, and the Logos Won
I have dismissed many, many–my goodness–so many, red squiggly lines generated by brainless machines. When I do this, I am trusting the client to know that I understand the context of the writing better than the online grammar checker. In other cases, when I’m dealing with a client who enjoys sending persnickety revision requests, or who does not speak English as their first language, I go with the grammar checker’s suggestion. Why? Because the emperor may have no clothes, but I’m not a little boy with nominal vision and a nuance-blind honest streak. I’m a grown man who has bills to pay.
In the end, what suffers is the writing. The more the material is intended to appeal to a casual audience, the more of a problem it is. When I’m selling content on high-level financial products or for academic B2B clients, I write in a strictly professional manner. The prose is meant to be as refined as the service. But, if we’re trying to make you look like a human being on social media–and not some blood-hungry iced-sidewalk-injury-law attorney–you want your ad copy to look organic, honest, and sincere.
What you need is a writer you can trust, a writer who understands the psychology of a well placed colloquialism, who can skirt the shoals of Grammarly with the wisdom of an aged horsetrack bookie. If you want a damned robot at sweatshop prices, go to Textbroker. Those people would entrust their personal gastrointestinal health to online grammar checkers, quite unadvisedly.
DL M has 21 years of professional writing for print and online media and has 10+ years experience as a freelance fiction editor. He’s a content creator for major corporations covering all topics for a wide range of industries, specializing in white papers, research, news content. His specialty subjects include: current events, marketing, analytics, personal development, leveraging social media, SEO, business development, cloud computing, language, and politics.