Does Grammar Matter?

I find grammar fascinating. I know, that makes me weird in a lot of circles, but I can’t help myself. I love the nitty-gritty of it and researching correct answers. I belong to a grammar group on LinkedIn and I freely choose to read grammar books. Contrast my views with someone who loathes every bit of grammar, and you’ve got a good argument brewing.

But does grammar really matter? (And yes, I know I’ve started these last two sentences with conjunctions. Dreadful behaviour.) Arguments can be made for both sides. Does it truly matter if you say, “I don’t have any” versus “I don’t got none”? (And should that question mark be inside the quotes?) In both sentences your message is clear.

There will be times when contravening grammar rules will either confuse your reader or completely change the meaning of your thought. Don’t believe me? Check out this case in which a misplaced comma cost Rogers Communications millions of dollars:

Who would have thought one lowly little comma could cause so much trouble?

When you find yourself frustrated by all of the complexities and contrariness of the English language, it may help you to remember that grammar does have a point. People in a given area speak the same language so we can actually communicate with each other. Think of grammar as an extension of your language. If we had no rules to follow, we’d never be able to understand one another.

My short answer to the question I posed is this: if not following proper grammar will change or confuse your meaning, then grammar does matter. If you will still clearly communicate your point while flaunting the rules, then proper grammar doesn’t much matter.

Be forewarned, I still reserve the right to complain about people who simply don’t know the rules. Other grammarians may also lament your lack of English skills. We’re geeks. We just can’t help ourselves.

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A Pitiful Networking Experience

As any small business owner knows, networking is a huge part of business. As soon as I started Prairie Scribe, I joined a number of networking organizations and started making the rounds to get my business known in the Winnipeg community.

Most of this networking was fruitful. I am by no means a social butterfly, but I can walk up to people I don’t know and start a conversation.  I found the trick is to find a conversation that doesn’t look too engrossed, as I hate interrupting something important. Once I’d met a few people, I would also join conversations that had one person I knew, to ease my introductions to the other participants. I’ve met a number of friendly, knowledgeable business owners this way.

I have only once found my networking attempts completely thwarted. I was at a local magazine conference. The event had a number of people milling around, including many standing on their own, but I couldn’t seem to get conversations started.

I approached a few people who seemed surprised a stranger was talking to them. They acted uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say, leaving me to fill the conversational void. I also approached a few duos, and after exchanging names and “what do you do” answers, they went back to their two-person conversations, leaving me on my own again.

I then retreated to standing by myself and watched the other solo attendees. None of them looked comfortable and they all seemed to be looking for someone to talk to, but not one would approach another. Even the people working the conference tables weren’t interested in talking to me.

I did finally find one freelance graphic designer who had some social skills, and felt like I’d been rescued when we had a lengthy conversation. Still, once my session was over I made a beeline for the door. I’ve never been so happy to leave an event. This happened almost two months ago, but it still puzzles me to think back to that day. I’ve never had similar troubles before or since, for which I am grateful.

I thought this might serve as a good reminder for those who don’t feel they are adequate networkers.  I don’t think you could be any worse than those conference attendees. And if you have ever been one of these people, stop! You look more ridiculous sulking by yourself than starting a conversation with someone.  Even if you do have trouble making meaningful contacts, the experience won’t be the end of the world and practice will certainly make you a better networker.

Posted in General, Small Business | 3 Comments

Proofreading in the Professional Writing World

I love reading news on the Internet. It’s free, there are myriad new stories each day and I can read about any issue from multiple points of view. What I hate about online reading is the lack of copy editing and proofreading done for stories.

Many of these stories are posted quickly, as time is certainly of the essence in the information age. But I still think there are too many errors for the medium. The issue isn’t just typos. I see too many repeated words and even entire sentences and paragraphs pasted twice into a story. These errors are jarring, and cause me to focus on the mistakes instead of the news.

A cursory review of articles before posting them is not too time consuming a task. When big stories are breaking, I often see headlines with only a snippet of the article attached, ending with “more to come.” These partial posts show the need to get a story out, but a greater need to confirm information and post a coherent article. I simply ask that a brief proofread go along with these fact checks.

I am disheartened to note the trend seems to be moving into the slower-paced areas of magazine and book publishing. They both publish on deadline, but aren’t expected to stay up-to-the-second with news like their Internet partners. I’ve read a local business magazine that doesn’t seem to have a copy editor at all. I shouldn’t be finding a dozen errors in one two-page spread.

I realize I am a word geek and I pay more attention to correctness in stories than many others might, but I can’t be the only one to notice errors. The repeated sentences and paragraphs are surely noticed by everyone who reads them.  If you are trying to write a compelling narrative, having it interrupted by mistakes and duplications must be frustrating to writers, too.

So my advice, and my plea, to editors out there: please allow a few minutes for proofreading before publishing. Wordsmiths everywhere will say a silent thank you.

Posted in Editing, General | 2 Comments

Confessions of a Word Nut

A love of words is a requirement for a writer or editor, and I definitely consider myself to be a word geek.  I am thrilled when I come across new words.

I am part of a Toastmasters Club, and one of our meeting roles is that of Grammarian. This person keeps tabs on grammar throughout the meeting, and also introduces a word of the day to expand member vocabulary. This is an oft-hated role in our club, but as you might have surmised, it’s my favourite role.  I have post-it notes glued all over my fridge with interesting words I enjoy, to ensure I have a quick reference guide when I am club Grammarian. I regularly refer and add to the list with glee.

Technology has only helped me to become a better wordsmith. Websites such as provide me with a plethora of word choices when I write.  I even have a application downloaded onto my new Blackberry, so I can quickly look up definitions to unfamiliar words, wherever I may be.

However, this new application has resulted in a bit too much word obsession over the past months.  I am a voracious reader of news websites, magazines and books of all sorts. Since I read so much each day, I find I regularly come across both new words and familiar words whose definitions I have gleaned over the years from simple context of use, rather than looking up their true meanings.

With my new phone app at my fingertips, I find myself needing to confirm the exact definition of too many of the words I come across each day. When I first downloaded the application, I looked up a word I was sure I knew the definition for. It turns out I was wrong. This wouldn’t do! It made me paranoid about my grasp of the English language, and I now find myself looking up the definitions for rather mundane words. My daily reading is now being interrupted by my search for accuracy.

Just you try to enjoy a novel when you must constantly interrupt yourself to ferret out definitions. I am currently reading a Charlotte Bronte novel, which wields many a word not in regular use today. I may be on the verge of driving myself mad. I have therefore begun banishing my phone from my presence when I start to read, lest my love of individual words destroy my truer love of reading. Here’s hoping this proves an effective elixir for my lexicon ailment.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Why Create a Newsletter?

Two weeks ago I discussed content for newsletters, but you may be undecided about whether you even need one.  What purpose will a newsletter serve for your organization?

Newsletters are a great way to provide succinct information to your clients and followers. If you have new products or services you’d like to share, or you want to highlight one of your lesser-known offerings, a newsletter can be used. Frequently asked questions can also be addressed in this medium.

Sending information on a regular basis can keep you top of mind with your clients. This is especially important if your clients don’t need your services on a regular basis. If you are from a non-profit organization, a newsletter can be a way to connect with your donors and volunteers.

Cost is often an issue when deciding how to communicate with clients. A newsletter is cost-effective if sent electronically and can reach a large audience.

Blogs and other social media tools are also effective, but these need to be updated more frequently. If you are pressed for time or content, a newsletter can be sent once a month or once a quarter. You can ensure the schedule works for you and doesn’t feel like an added burden to your busy days.

If you are still worried about the time to create content once a month, have employees contribute articles and tips, or consider outsourcing your newsletter to a communications firm.

In the end, deciding to start a newsletter will depend on your clients and your communication needs. Just remember, it should be a tool that helps disseminate your message without causing you too much hassle.

Posted in General, Small Business, Technical Writing | Leave a comment

Fending Off Direct Sellers

A strange thing happened to me after becoming a small business owner. I go to many networking events to make contacts and drum up business. I’ve met a lot of good people, obtained a few clients and learned quite a bit about business ownership.

The strange part comes in the form of other business owners who do some form of direct selling to clients. They offer a plethora of products, but I’d categorize them all as being similar to Amway in business structure. Even though I am busy with my own business, they all want to recruit me to their businesses. They ask me what I do and then do a cursory listen before trying to sell me on their businesses as a great opportunity.

I guess this is how they all become successful at what they do, but I really think they’re barking up the wrong tree.  All of my focus is on my newly launched business. I’ve been quite excited about it and it seems strange that I have to ward off other selling offers. Prairie Scribe keeps me busy and I can’t imagine having the time or passion for yet another new endeavour.

I encounter this problem outside of networking events, too.  I’ve done some writing for a local newsletter, where my bio and website are listed after my articles. I had a call from a complete stranger who wanted to tell me about his great business opportunity that will make me an extra $1000.00 each month.  This seems like a crazier sell to me. At least if I’ve met someone, I might consider his offer credible.  I would have to be pretty naïve to say yes to some random stranger on the phone.

I’ve talked to other business owners, and my experience seems to be par for the course. I guess it’s just one of those things you don’t expect when you are new to business.  If it’s the worst problem I have with networking, I can’t complain. I just feel bad for all those direct sellers who are wasting their breath trying to pitch me a “fabulous” new career opportunity.

Posted in General, Small Business | Leave a comment

Content Ideas for Newsletters

You’ve taken the plunge and decided to create a company newsletter. You’ve selected the frequency and method of distribution. Now comes the hard part: what do you put in it? Creating content can be a challenge, but there are plenty of article types to fill your pages.

Start by creating content that will interest your readers. The newsletter should not read like a sales ad. This is a method of advertising for you, but push too hard, and you will alienate your readers.

People like to learn new things, so provide short “how-to” and tips articles relating to the type of work you do.  If your firm provides HR solutions, give your audience short HR tips or links to further resources. Free advice usually keeps your reader interested.

Engage your readers by seeking their input. A Q&A section allows your readers to pose questions that can be answered in the newsletter by you and your experts.  Readers feel like part of the newsletter and you can disseminate helpful tips to all of your clients. Surveys are another way to invite reader participation.

A regular message from the owner or CEO can provide information about your company. You may also choose to profile some of your employees in short articles. Consider conducting interviews with other experts in your industry to complete this section of your newsletter.

Jokes, quotes, quick facts, and puzzles can lighten up your newsletter and provide balance with your regular content. These can be related to your industry or kept separate.

Finally, a newsletter is your opportunity to sell your product or service. Include articles about new product offerings. Offer coupons or other regular deals to entice your audience to read each edition of your newsletter.  If you provide interesting, valuable content, your newsletter will be an effective piece of your marketing plan.

Posted in General, Small Business, Technical Writing | Leave a comment