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Letter on Grammar Published in DM News

Those of us who are cursed with a knowledge of correct word usage and spelling cringe every time (not “everytime”) we read copy filled with errors. Social media in particular have become a breeding ground for careless writing.

Here’s the unedited version of my letter to DM News, which appeared in the Sept. 28 issue:

Your Aug. 17 headline asks, “Has new media changed copywriting?” I agree with “contender” Suzanne Darmory Dunleavy, who says that copywriting must still be “be on brand, be on strategy, be engaging, target the right audience with the right tone and have a clear call to action.” As always, effective direct marketing requires three main ingredients: the offer, creativity and the list. Effective copywriting is integral to the first two of those.

Contender Steve Caputo, meanwhile, says that new media have affected the writing process in part because of “unprecedented speed.” Unfortunately, speed seems to have become an excuse for sloppy writing. Yet reporters have always had to produce accurate copy while racing against deadlines – and following Associated Press news style.

Since my background is journalism, I’m acutely aware of the daily parade of typos, misspelling, poor grammar and style errors. Careful writing in any medium still helps ensure (not “insure”) that your message is clearly communicated. When someone writes, “Your welcome” or “Please bare with me,” both of which I’ve seen lately, the message I receive is that the company doesn’t care about quality.

Mistakes I see most often include:
• Confusing “Everyday low prices” and “Low prices every day.” (“Every day” should always be two words in the second usage.)
• Using apostrophes to form plurals. A recent article on social media used “company’s” as the plural of “company.”
• Misusing “its” and “its” or “their,” “there” and “they’re.”
• Confusing “principle” and “principal” or “complimentary” and “complementary.”
• Not bothering to check the spelling of tricky words: Use “impostor,” (not “imposter”), fireplace “mantel” (not “mantle”) and “a real “trouper” (not “trooper”).
• Confusing “podium” with “lectern.” A speaker stands behind a lectern and on a podium.
• Not putting a comma after dates and states used in apposition: “The company will launch its product on Nov. 1, 2009, in Kansas City, Mo., the marketing director announced.“

These days the fingernails-on-the-blackboard error I see most frequently is “Get it for free.” Writers seem to like the alliteration, but the “for” is unnecessary. After all, you wouldn’t say, “You can get it for cheap.”

One more quibble: Most stylebooks still hold that the word “media” requires a plural verb. So your article’s headline should have been, “Have new media changed copywriting?”

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1 Comment

  • I admire your desire to hang on to the traditional (you would say correct)use of the English language in media. Many of us cross the line every day due to a younger workforce without the prior traditional training as well as the temptation to write quickly. This is no excuse but the reality of our business. I find myself taking liberties with our language simply to get meaning into a 5 word billboard. Your article forced me to read my blog entry twice, and I probably still missing something.