You are what you write

February 1, 2010 · 25 comments

What your writing reveals about you

There is a common thread among some of the superstar bloggers that writing good English doesn’t matter. The objective they claim is to get an article posted, preferably every day. The long-term goal is to get as many readers as possible with the idea of blogging for profit. The content must be great; it doesn’t matter much if the writing sucks. It matters to me, and I think it is safe to say, it matters to writers in general.

The fact that many of these super-bloggers write below a third grade level is apparently irrelevant. Perpetrating the idea that further dumbing-down, more instant gratification, butchering the language is acceptable, is unacceptable for me. This is not about a few typos or absolute perfect English. It is about horrible English.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution

With fortune, power and fame comes responsibility. These are good people, with good intentions for the most part. Granted, the attention span of the average web surfer is measured in milliseconds, and must be grabbed sometimes with outrageous hooks. I have no problem with chunk writing, choppy, to the point, simple sentences, usually without subordinate clauses, and few polysyllable words. What I don’t like is what appears to be English as a second language, written by English speaking people.

In fact, many bloggers are content to use incomplete sentences. Like this. Again, this is unacceptable for me. We send our kids to school to learn proper English. I believe the superstars have a responsibility to write proper English. Those who write for a living should not perpetuate or endorse bastardizing the language.

I do agree that for blog writing, somewhat imperfect grammar, punctuation and style are adequate. but when i see a sentence like this i cringe an git sic. There is even difference of opinion about what is proper and what is not among teachers and writers of English. The English language is rich and has more words than any language on earth. There is bound to be some controversy in the academic world.

Is poor writing acceptable to you? If this is the new communication, then why is there so much consternation about American schools? We learn more by example than rote memorization. Often we can learn more about someone by their writing ability than what they are trying to communicate.


Yogesh Mankani February 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm

I agree with each and every point of your post. Content is always King but good English always matters for me because in my view your communication is the key factor in your popularity as a great blogger. I am working on my communication skills too and I believe it will be fixed in coming time.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful views with us.

Nietzsch E. Coyote February 1, 2010 at 8:06 pm

English is an ugly language that deserves bastardization… hell it was born of bastardization. What we are seeing is the mutation of the language and I WELCOME it. There is no such thing as “proper english” there is only what english USED to be. Take the past off it's pedestal.

servantofchaos February 2, 2010 at 5:44 am

I agree – even though I often use short, non-grammatic sentences. Like this. I tend to discount the intellect of bloggers who don't write well. If they can't be careful with their blog writing – where they have absolute control over the content, structure and grammar – then it makes me wonder how rigorous they are being when it comes to the ideas that they are presenting.

Mari February 2, 2010 at 7:55 am

With so many reading choices available, poor grammar makes it easy for me to click away the window or flip the page. What really gets to me, Hal, are the typos. Why, I wonder, has the value of proofreading diminished?

Hal Brown February 2, 2010 at 9:44 am

I also use sentences like that, especially in a discussion. It make the whole experience more conversational and relaxed. And I feel the same as you – haphazard writing makes me doubt the validity of what I'm reading.

Hal Brown February 2, 2010 at 9:47 am

Wow, I wish I knew the answer to your question. Proofreading is so easy, I can think of nothing but laziness. We all make mistakes, but when an entire post is hard to understand, well…

Missy February 2, 2010 at 11:41 am

Great, great post. I've been shocked and appalled by some of the grammar I see on some blogs. Style doesn't bother me – sometimes it's fun (for me) to make a point about something with choppy sentences. Like, my youngest is still sick. Since last Wednesday. That's 6 days. I think it helps express the emotion you're feeling without saying something like, “My child has been sick for almost a week and I'm ready to pull my hair out. I've been a punching bag or bean bag chair to her little self now for 6 days and am tired.”

Ok, maybe they both work – but sometimes I like to use the shortened stuff for dramatic style, presentation. It's the awful grammar, misspellings, inane run-on sentences that make me crazy.

And I was thinking about writing a post about it in the next week or so – then here's this one! Good work!

Hal Brown February 2, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Missy. Again, I have no problem with chunk writing or short choppy bits for blog writing. I do that too. I don't want to be the grammar police, just make it understandable. At times I'm reminded of trying to follow instructions on putting together a toy for one of the kids. I have to seek help rather than have a fit and quit the thing.

Ameena February 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Great post! I totally agree that grammar is very important. I have to admit that I use incomplete sentences when writing my blog for effect. Hopefully it doesn't bother too many people!

Hal Brown February 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Thank you Ameena. And as I mentioned previously, I sometimes use incomplete sentences too. Maybe I should have left that out. I was referring to consistent use of bad grammar, not an occasional lapse. Incidentally, I was looking at our blog this morning. I subbed to it. I look forward to what you have to say.

Gene and Nadia February 2, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I love that you remind us that grammar and proper English are so important. Of course, the content comes first. But how would it be possible to convey the right message with poor wording?
French is my native language (so it's always a challenge to blog in English, no matter how much I read, write and speak). I always cringe too when I see a language misused, tortured and abused.

Ameena February 2, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Thank you Hal for your kind words!

I look forward to reading your tips as well. I learned a lot from the Twitter Etiquette…I am new to Twitter!

Hal Brown February 2, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Je comprends. J'ai étudié le français dans l'école et le collège. Pour moi c'est la plus belle langue dans le monde.

When I studied French it was an incredible help with English. I love the language, but it has been so long I can't remember all that much – even simple words seem to have left me. How nice to have a comment from you. And maybe that's why language is important to me. I know that French is kept more pure than English, or it used to be.


Ken Kurosawa February 3, 2010 at 6:34 am

I agree and humbly admit my lack of writing skills.
I find that blogging is a way to improve writing and although I have a ways to go, I'm enjoying the journey. Not to mention getting to connect with you and others.
Wat will b interestng in da futur is 2 c how sites like twittr will change da langage as we no it.
160 charcter attntn span w00T!

Hal Brown February 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

U rite LOL!
I too have thought about that and texting, anywhere words are shortened. Time will tell. Things seem to come together to conspire against writing and making communication a little harder.

philipbrunner February 3, 2010 at 11:24 am

A much needed post. I believe improper grammar is one of the fundamental flaws in communication. Simply put, if you can't use grammar correctly you can't communicate as effectively.

Hal Brown February 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I've posted this before, but your comment reminded me of it. This is one of my favorite poems.

Useless Words

So long as we speak the same language and never understand each other,
So long as the spirals of our words snarl and interlock
And clutch each other with irreckonable gutturals
Carl Sandburg

Randy Murray February 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I am with you on this, brother!

Clarity is the key. Clarity of thought and expression. Poor writing, including grammar and punctuation, slows and confuses a reader. The excuse, “they'll know what I meant” is used too often.

Great post!

Hal Brown February 3, 2010 at 6:25 pm

And yet another good way to look at this. I have come to believe that we might all be better off if everyone learned to write. Writing forces organization of thought, in other words what you said, clarity.
Thanks Randy.

Randy Murray February 3, 2010 at 6:39 pm


I try to devote focused periods of time to writing projects (maybe yours!), so I only check email periodically. I should be able to get back to you fairly soon, but if you need my attention immediately, you can reach me here:

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Randy Murray

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missy February 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I left you an award today on the blog. Not because I want you to participate (I don't think it's your thing), but because I'm hoping to drive traffic to your site for when you do your tutorials!

Karen February 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Hear, hear! It's so refreshing to read an article that shouts that we should absolutely care about our English writing, grammar and typos. When I'm reading an article and come across such glaring typos or grammar mistakes, it takes me out of the experience I was in reading the article.

I can appreciate how difficult non-English speakers have it, but there is no excuse for natural-born English speakers and writers. Are they just too lazy to turn on spellcheck or to read out loud their articles before they hit the publish key? If you know that your grammar needs work, then work on it! Learn the difference between your, you're,your's, yours, there, their, they're. It's not that difficult. I'm not perfect, but I do try to write articles that have good grammar, minimal typos and good sentence structure at least. /rant

Hal Brown February 20, 2010 at 12:00 am

Hey Karen,
You write good articles period. Rant all you like.
I am with you about “glaring typos or grammar mistakes.” We are not looking for absolute perfect English, just readable, with as few typos as possible.
Thanks for stopping by.

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