How Important Are Grammar And Spelling Online?

How Important Are Grammar And Spelling Online? | 40Tech

One might think that the world wide web, which is still predominantly text-based, would be the spearhead in the rise to new heights of literary articulation. Unfortunately, if you were the one who was thinking that, you were sadly misinformed. In actuality the ability or willingness to write with proper grammar and spelling has been replaced by  a general acceptance of a lower standard. The acceptance appears general, that is. Where do you stand on the subject?

Image by JD Hancock

I confess that poor spelling and grammar is a pet peeve of mine. When I am reading something that runs rampant with glaring errors, I find it difficult, irritating, and that the work loses credibility in my eyes. There are levels, however. While misspellings like “definately” and “loose” (for lose) always make me cringe a bit, I make allowances for posts and comments that have mistakes in them. I recognize that, while English is the most prominent language on the web (at least in my own experience), many of the active participants of the social and interactive super-real-time web are not native speakers (or writers). If I were to have to communicate in other languages, I have no doubt that my writings could easily be the stuff laughing stocks are made of.

Where I draw the line, however, is with “texting” or “IM” style writing. Some of that has its place, too — or had, before the mass adoption of full hardware and software keyboards — but forgive me if I think that there is never a good excuse to write “wat” in place of “what.” That’s almost enough to get me to stop reading altogether. I also can’t stand l33t. Practically unheard of for a tech-geek, I know, but the secret code of elite nerds always struck me as a really annoying oxymoron.

Now before those that are inclined start tearing apart some of the grammatical inconsistencies of this post, I should mention that I am ok with conversational writing. That is to say that I don’t mind some liberties being taken to convey tone and flow that, on some level, emulates how two friends or acquaintances would talk with one another. In fact, I think that sort of writing is essential on the web. It is part of what makes a blog post resonant, and helps the reader and writer to identify with one another. How far I’m willing to accept this style of writing is dependent on the subject matter, the points I made above, and quite likely, my age/maturity level while reading. And I’m fully aware and accepting of the fact that my maturity level can fluctuate… :P

Is my acceptance of even a limited degradation of writing on the web part of the overall problem? Probably. Is it one of the factors that leads to established journalists getting lazy  (and sometimes disappointing) with their writing? Again, probably. It’s all tied in with other factors like language barriers and the attention deficit fostering speed of the online world. Is there a line that should be drawn in the sand somewhere, though? Should people be publicly flogged for ignoring the oh-so-convenient spell-check integrations out there? Personally, I think that spell-check, auto-correct, and especially auto-complete are actually part of the problem. Since I started using the iPhone and iPad, for example, I have noticed a marked increase in mistakes while typing on a full keyboard — especially with contractions.

What about you? Where do you draw the line — or do you care at all? Why?

Bobby Travis

Bobby isn't 40-something, but is a strong supporter of the Grown-up Geek kind. He's a loving husband and father first, but is also a freelance writer, productivity nut, operatically trained singer, and (not-so) closet geek. Check out his random thoughts, wackiness, and Instagram pics on Tumblr, Twitter, or Google+-- or just head over to bobby-travis.com.

14 Comments:

  1. I’m with you. If the poster cannot write correctly, how are we supposed to take what they say seriously? That said, a few errors are going to happen.

    As I say, “I can spell. My fingers can’t.”

  2. Not kewl. I thot u wuz l33t. UR not!!!!

    I’m fairly accepting of a few errors here and there, as long as they don’t litter the entire landscape of the article. I’m much more forgiving of smaller sites than bigger ones, due to obvious staffing constraints. Those who self-edit their work are going to be at a disadvantage, as you are apt to see what you think you wrote, instead of what you actually wrote.

    What annoys me the most are factual errors, especially on the larger sites. In July, I got really annoyed when I saw articles that claimed that Derek Jeter had more hits than anyone to ever play for the Yankees.

    While Jeter had the most hits AS a Yankee, Paul Waner has the most hits of anyone to ever play for the Yankees (he also played for other teams). A subtle difference, yes, but something the big sports sites should not have been getting wrong – they were blinded by Jetermania and altered his accomplishment to the point where their statements were no longer true.

    • Hehe — yeah, definitely not l33t.

      The factual errors thing can be extremely annoying as well. Simple mistakes are one thing, but when people make sweeping opinionated statements without doing due diligence, that’s a problem for me.

  3. I disregard anything I see online that lacks correct spelling, punctuation, or grammar. All of these things are meant to make it easy for a reader to understand; if the writer is unwilling or incapable of using the standard language, her credibility to me is zero.

  4. I always do my best to be as accurate as possible when it comes to spelling and online grammar , even though I’m not a native English speaker. As for the majority of the people, I just hate the internet slang, short-cutting words, introducing numbers and all that stuff, very irritating.

    • Definite agreement here, Cristian. What’s funny is, in many cases, English as a second language users tend to have superior command of spelling and grammar over native speakers.

  5. Totally important. I not only complain about it – I correct people’s illiterate nonsense.

    If you don’t know enough to use you’re vs. your correctly, or their/there/they’re… – please don’t post things on the Internet. Period.

  6. Language descriptivist, checking in.

    Interesting thoughts. Let me be clear by saying that I absolutely love grammar rules, spelling, and all that jazz, but I have to point out that the acid test of language should be pragmatic; did the message get across?

    Other than what other, older people have written down and claimed was ‘standard’, there is no concrete reality behind what is ‘correct’ in terms of language and word usage. And once you accept that the ‘rules’ are ever-changing based on the general usage by the speakers, I think you get a picture of language that’s much more beautiful, alive, and interesting.

    People probably wrote down ‘authoritative’ rules for grammar, spelling, etc. for English a couple hundred years ago. Why aren’t we using those rules for defining what’s ‘correct’? It’s much more interesting to talk about what language *is* than what it *should be*.

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