Grammar: When Good Copy Goes Bad

Mistakes in grammar pass by many a writer’s radar but they can cause huge problems with marketing copy.

For example, see if you can spot the error in this sentence: “The operations team reported an upward trend in efficiency, training, productivity, morale, failure rates, and innovation.”  An “upward trend” in failure rates would mean that the rates increased, not exactly something to boast about. The writer could fix this problem by changing “failure rates” to “operating life” or by starting another sentence with information about downward trends.

Many problems with grammar come from relying on the grammar checker that comes with Word. That grammar checker seems to hate the word “who,” leading to a proliferation of sentences where people are referred to as things: “The engineers that are responsible for this innovation….” ought to be “The engineers who are responsible for this innovation.” But try telling that to Word.

Common mistakes in grammar include random changes in verb tense from past to present and back again, indecision about whether a company should refer to itself as “we” or “it,” lists that change in midstream from phrases to whole sentences, and lack of agreement between noun and verb.

Why is bad grammar a problem?

  • First, as shown in our initial example, it can send the exactly wrong message to your readers.
  • Second, bad grammar is one of the markers for online scams, according to the founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911. You don’t want your message to be tagged as spam.
  • Third, bad grammar sounds unprofessional. Yes, the misuse of “that” for “who” is so common now that most people will accept it; but it still sounds bad (or it ought to!) and interrupts the smooth flow of your message.
  • Fourth, more and more companies are international. Your readers who speak English as a second language (and any translation software they use) will struggle needlessly if your English is grammatically wrong.
  • Finally, how can your readers trust the quality of your products and services if you can’t even describe them in standard English?

If you aren’t confident in your grammar, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to review and edit your marketing or technical writing. Make sure your message goes out the way you intended.

5 Most Dangerous Writing Mistakes

  1. Ignoring your readers. Writing that ignores the reader contains humor the reader might consider inappropriate, an overabundance of acronyms and expert terms and many more “I” statements than “you” statements. This writing mistake includes addressing people in ways that either the reader or the person referred to might consider unacceptable–for example, “a dyslexic” instead of “a person with dyslexia.”
  2. Assuming that you know what a word means. “Consensual” and “consensus” are two very different types of agreement. “Perceptive” and “preceptive” have no meanings in common. This writing mistake includes using an archaic or rare form of a word. Even if you use it correctly, your readers are unlikely to know what you are talking about.
  3. Writing really long sentences–over 34 words. The problem here is that you and your readers are likely to lose track of what you are saying. This writing mistake is compounded by sentences that contain a negative–leading to statements like “we hope we won’t have to cut employees and save everyone’s job.” Grammar checkers choke up when they try to decipher a long sentence and will give you even worse advice than they usually do.
  4. Burying your message. In newspapers, this is called burying your “lede,” the paragraph with all the most important information in the article. When your message falls deep within your story, your readers lose heart and don’t search for it. They simply stop reading.
  5. Losing focus. Research has shown that readers can retain 3 new pieces of information tops. So don’t try to cram everything you ever wanted to write into one sentence, one paragraph or one article. Determine the 3 most important points in your message and focus on those three (or fewer, if possible).

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our goal is clear, concise, accurate writing that grabs and keeps a reader’s attention. So if you recognize any of the writing mistakes above in your marketing or technical copy, please contact us. Our words mean business.



Top Five Newsletter Mistakes

A e-newsletter or print newsletter is a great way to remind customers of your brand and your expertise. But make sure you avoid these six mistakes:

1. Distributing your newsletter at random times. Decide whether you have the resources (including the time) to distribute a newsletter twice a year, quarterly, monthly or more frequently–then stick to the schedule so that customers know to expect you. You want customers to ask themselves, “Shouldn’t I be getting a newsletter around now?” And you want them to be glad when it shows up.

2. Packing your newsletter with recycled copy. Newspapers have the Associated Press, which sends stories out across the country. Some industries have the equivalent in associations that provide generic stories for anyone in that industry to recycle in a newsletter. But with the internet providing meaty content on almost any subject, those generic AP style stories have no strength at all.

3. Using photos that have nothing to do with your company. I’ve seen newsletters from local businesses that show dozens of suits striding through skyscrapers–though their customers prefer dungarees and live 50 miles from the nearest ten story building. If you cannot use photos of your own business, projects, products and customers, then at least make sure the photos you do use have some connection to your real marketplace.

4. Proofreading the text but not the headlines. If you ever make an embarrassing mistake, it will occur in the bold, 20 point, underlined, italicized headline. Trust me on this. Another place where errors inevitably occur is in the standard copy; for example, if every issue has a publication date, you will forget to change the date on a new issue at least once.

5. Randomly changing your newsletter’s appearance. Your newsletter is part of your brand and should reflect the styles, colors and fonts you use in your website and other publications. Make sure your logo always appears in the same spot and in the same style. Consistency is a big factor in making a newsletter memorable.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes and edits newsletters as well as blogs, website copy, articles, press releases and brochures for companies in many industries. I’ll make sure that your newsletter attracts and keeps the attention of your customers–no mistake!