6 Ways Bloggers Can Avoid a Visit from The Grammar Police

    Categories: Writing

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I am a huge fan of editors and use several for my books, but this blog is my own work and frequently I only read once before posting. I believe it's more important to provide useful information than it is for my grammar to be perfect on this site.

But I still get correction emails so it's great to have this post from Suzannah Freeman from Write It Sideways today. I know I have a hybrid vocabulary which sometimes makes it difficult. I am British but have spent 11 years in Australia and New Zealand, and I also write for Americans – so my spelling can be a mixture of the lot of them! I hope you enjoy this post.

Those of us who blog about writing have an especially rough time when it comes to making mistakes.

There is a breed of commenter, also known as The Grammar Police, who feel it necessary to point out typos and misused words in blogs. Usually the commenter remains anonymous, and the purpose of their comment is strictly to point out errors – not to discuss the actual content of the article. The tone is, almost invariably, sarcastic.

It's as if they're saying, “How can you call yourself a writer? You made a mistake!

‘Cause everyone knows writers never make mistakes. That's why there are no such things as editors and proofreaders.

Are Writers Allowed to Make Mistakes?

When readers find multiple errors in the same post, or every post they read on your blog contains glaring errors, it's definitely off-putting. Under such circumstances, one might be tempted to wonder if the writer knows what he or she is doing. But, occasional typos and errors do happen, even to professional writers.

Once in a blue moon, we might even (gasp!) misuse words like its/it's, or their/there/they're, or your/you're. Writer George Angus says:

“I'm no grammar expert but [misused words like your/you're] are the most basic and I think that any (even slightly) literate adult should have a grasp of them. Any adult who professes to be a writer has no excuse to not have a grasp.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Writers should have a good grasp of these concepts, and most do. Ask us to explain in detail the correct usage of these words‚ no problem. And 99.9% of the time, we write them correctly. That doesn't mean we're never guilty of mixing them up when we jot something down in a rush, or miss one during a proofread.

Food blogger David Lebovitz says, “Show me a blog without a typo and I'll show you a blog written by a machine, not a human being.” In the same article, blogger Deb Perelman shares her view: “I think blogs don't need to be perfect‚ they're generally one-person shops, it would be unreasonable to expect perfection.”

No One Gets Out Alive

Even Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, gets hammered regularly:

“Someone wrote last week, You should be ashamed. How can you be a book publisher and allow such embarrassing errors on your blog? I am disappointed by your lack of commitment to excellence. It makes me think less of your company. Please: do us all a favor and hire a proofreader!”

Now, this is going to sound highly defensive (and it is), but here's what my day looks like:

After many hours of running after two children, being pregnant with twins, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring and trying to get some personal writing accomplished, I'll plonk myself in front of my laptop (instead of putting my feet up and watching a good movie) and write an article, which I will then offer for free to thousands of people, most of whom are very appreciative. After all that…well…a small error, pointed out publicly, sarcastically, and anonymously, really smarts.

However, I do welcome the type of correction that comes in the form of a private note from a reader, letting me know I've missed a few things. A private email tells me the reader's intentions are to help me, not embarrass me.

The Aperture Blog decided to be proactive and add this statement to their comment policy:

“As this is a blog, written by a single person, I do not have the luxury of a dedicated editorial staff to proof read everything I write. I do my best, but occasionally in my haste to post (and get back to work) typos, grammar errors etc. will slip through. If you do spot something a nicely worded email pointing out any typos will be appreciated, however, comments insulting me, blanket derisive comments about my writing style and so on will be deleted.”

Of course, this is not to give anyone an excuse for sloppy writing and proofreading. The occasional typo doesn't offend most, but regular ones will.

How to Avoid a Visit from The Grammar Police

The Grammar Police will show up at your virtual doorstep once in a while, but you can lessen the fury of their onslaught by following these guidelines:

  1. Use a spellchecker (but don't rely on it). Spellcheckers are good for catching a lot of things, but they aren't smart enough to catch misused words. I suggest using your spellchecker first, then manually proofreading afterward.
  2. Leave it overnight, if possible. Better yet, a few days. As a blogger, I'm happiest when I have content queued up ahead of time, and can afford to let articles sit for a week or two before editing and proofreading. It makes spotting mistakes and weak prose so much easier.
  3. Read the article through at least twice. When an article is ‘finished,' I save it, put it into preview mode, then read it through slowly and make changes in the editor when necessary. When all the edits are complete, I re-save, refresh the preview, and do a final read-through.
  4. Read every word aloud. If you're prone to missing errors in your proofreading, try reading your articles aloud. This forces you to slow down and speak every word, rather than allowing your eyes to skim parts.
  5. Keep track of the words you tend to misuse/misspell. Even the best of us have a few words we tend to slip up on. When you do make a mistake that you know in your heart isn't just a typo, write it down on a list. You can do a search for these words when you proofread, or just keep them handy by your computer where you can see them every day, as a reminder.
  6. Proofread without distractions. Proofreading the average blog post doesn't usually take more than 5-10 minutes. Try to find a quiet place, free from the distractions of television, music, and screaming children while you proofread, otherwise you might feel rushed and be tempted to skim.

Always endeavor to present your readers with a polished product, even if you're giving it away free of charge, even if you're tired, and even if you think readers should cut you some slack.

But, if someone points out a mistake on your blog, correct it and move on. Don't let anyone tell you you must be perfect; perfection is impossible.

Perhaps the policy should be: Let he who is without blogging errors cast the first stone, but he who seeketh to eradicate the blogging errors of others, let his feelings be made known in secret.

What do you think? Is there ever cause to publicly point out bloggers' mistakes to them in their comment sections? What are your best tips for avoiding typos and grammar errors in your own writing?

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is the creator and chief editor of Write It Sideways, and author of The Busy Mom's Guide to Writing.
Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Grist: The Journal for Writers, Saw Palm: Florida Art & Literature, The Sand Hill Review, and The Best of the Sand Hill Review anthology.
Top image: Flickr CC Pasukaru76



Joanna Penn :

View Comments (51)

  • I check, but I never spot them all. The worst seems to be not grammatical mistakes but omitted words -- hard to spot under most circumstances -- and when I use the wrong word (i.e., template for temple). I also have found that as my eyes get worse from age, I tend to drop the letter i -- evidently, it's just hard to see, and spot.

    The most embarrassing mistake was at a company I worked -- I didn't make it, but a whole bunch of people did. They spent almost a year editing a single page document about how to use a software program. It went back and forth multiple times between the customer and the company. At last it was done! They sent it out via email and immediately got comments back about how they'd spelled the product's name wrong in title. Evidently, they'd all looked at the content and no one paid attention to the title.

    • Ooh, I'm always worried about missing typos in titles or subtitles! Good tip :)

  • Good advice! :) Reading aloud is not fun, but it is amazing for what you can catch.

    Grammarly also has a nice program ... free for 7 days!

    Lauren Clark

    • I had a subscription to Grammarly for a while, and I agree it's a great program!

  • Thanks Suzannah (and Joanna by extension) for a great blog.

    I can identify with writing on the run. I have seven children and don’t have the warewithall (oops, wearwithal -- no, that’s not it either ... wherewithal -- ah, got it -- to hire an editor.

    Your trick to leave it overnight works wonders. I try to write a blog a week before I post and write once a week (probably not enough). That way it keeps rotating and even allows me to be a couple of days late on the first draft. It’s amazing what is missed on the first draft. I read it later and think, “Man, I’m glad that didn’t go out.”

    Take care and keep up the good work!

    • It's always best if you can let things wait a while. The longer, the better! Thanks :)

  • Typos are inevitable, especially, as Joanna says, there is usually only one set of eyes on it before it gets published. I've pointed out some obvious ones to bloggers, but very, very nicely -- hey, if it takes two seconds to fix, I feel like I'm helping somewhat. (Most people do take it that way too, which is nice...)

    Here's another idea though: add a "Report a Typo" button to your blog. That way you can show readers that (a) you make mistakes and (b) you're willing to fix them. It also gives people a way to let you know about errors without the whole "grammar police" vibe.

    Everyone wins!


  • Reading this post has made me feel much better about myself, and has given my perfectionist attitude a good slap. Thank you.

    We all are human and we do try our best but sometime you'll notice that the grammar police will make the same mistakes themselves more often than they should. No one is perfect.

    • Perfectionism will only drive you nuts, and no one is perfect anyway! :)

  • Perfectionism is simply unrealistic.

    That being said though I want to defend those of us who find repeated grammatical mistakes onerous.

    I read extensively. I also work, write, have a home to take care of and an extensive list of should-dos. I'm as busy as the writer. When I read something that has gross errors in spelling or grammar it interrupts my reading process. I usually end up stopping, going back re-reading that sentence (or paragraph) to see if the error is mine in interpretation, or an error in writing.

    Minor mistakes that occur once in a while are understandable. When I'm in a hurry my fingers move faster than I read and errors are bound to stretch forth. My editing process should get rid of most of them--and yes, I edit my stuff myself.

    In closing please know that I appreciate every bit of knowledge or information shared honestly and with integrity on a blog post. I also greatly appreciate bloggers who take the time to edit well.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my side of the story.

  • Great post thank you! I like the tip about keeping a list of words that I regularly misspell and whipping that out when I enter proof-reading mode.

    Just to add a tip to the list, when I proof read I make sure I have a printed out a hard copy of the text and I use a ruler to go through each line one at a time. It helps me to focus my attention on that line only and reduce my skim-reading tendancies!

  • My roommate is a linguist and we were discussing an interesting research paper the other day which showed that public figures who are regularly in the spotlight have a much higher rate of speaking errors per conversation. Almost as if speaking more caused your brain to experience small 'stuttering' moments where it get's a little lost. They haven't done a research study on writers but I imagine the same principle could apply. So instead of being upset about typos maybe we should realize that typos are bound to happen to even the best and most experienced writers.

  • These word processors are not enough to take care of the common errors while writing articles for the blogs. Almost all the spell checkers just check for the spellings and are not bothered about the context based sentences. But i have found a way to get rid of common Spelling errors, grammar mistakes and tenses mistakes.
    Ginger extension for chrome is the best way to avoid the spelling mistakes and it detects and corrects automatically all the errors. Here is the article i have found :

  • I'll point out a grammatical error in public comment (usually in the form of a question) when it's so egregious that I'm not sure what the blogger meant to say. Otherwise I likely to ignore it and read on.

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