Yeah, yeah, Weird Al, Word Crimes. I know you’ve already seen it shared a million times. But this blog post isn’t about Weird Al, or about his supposed split infinitive error (don’t get me started). It’s about you.


As Weird Al so rightly points out, if you can’t spell or punctuate, people are going to have trouble taking you seriously. A poor grasp of the intricacies of English can rob your voice of credibility, alienate readers, and damage your image, so it’s important to get things right. You might think there’s an element of snobbery to it, and maybe there is, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you get something wrong, people can and will judge you.

Whatever you put out there: emails, blog posts, social media updates, CVs or carrier pigeon messages, if your prose doesn’t look the part, neither will you. But don’t just take my word for it.

How you write is who you are

Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit and founder of Dozuki says:

If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s”, then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with… I will pass on a great programmer who can’t write.

And fair enough. Wiens works in a detail-orientated industry; being sloppy about spelling implies a lack of care and attention — something a good coder should have — and Wiens isn’t alone. A blog post by Coburg Banks, a West Midlands recruitment agency, lists spelling and grammar as the number two reason your CV will be immediately consigned to the trash can, with formatting coming in at a close five.

If you’re reading this with the sick sense that you’ve let a few clangers slip through, don’t feel bad. A study by Personal Career Management (PCM) in 2009 found that 94% of job hunters, in a sample of 450, made grammatical, spelling or presentation errors in their CVs, so it’s not as if you’re short on company. On the other hand, these figures should also tell you that it isn’t too hard to stand out from the punctuationally puzzled with just a little effort.

In terms of online sales, the data is just as alarming. Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur, found that correcting a spelling mistake on one of his sites caused a 50% jump in revenue. In a world of innumerable competitors, and even more scammers and fake sites, content riddled with errors looks unprofessional, untrustworthy and unattractive and will hurt your conversion rate.

If it can’t be read, it can’t be searched

Keep in mind that it’s not just people that will judge you either — search engines will as well. In February this year, Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager at Bing, confirmed that his company included spelling and grammar errors in its site ranking calculations, asking:

Why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of error free content exist to serve the searcher?

While Google has been a tad cagier on the subject, way back in 2011, Google spokesperson, Matt Cutts, said spelling and grammar are reasonable considerations for search rankings. In 2013, when asked if misspellings in WordPress comment threads affect overall quality ratings, Cutts said that while the spelling in comments isn’t important, in the actual content, it certainly is.

Be your own grammar police

So what can be done? Nobody is perfect, but it’s increasingly difficult to get away with even the smallest mistakes. It may be my training as an editor speaking, but I’ve never found a better tool than another pair of eyes; having a colleague, mentor, trusted friend or even a professional check over your writing is an easy way to identify errors you might have glossed over when proofreading yourself.

If you can’t find a second reader, don’t stress. Take a break for a few hours and come back with fresh eyes — you’ll likely notice something glaring that has been staring you in the face the whole time. If you struggle to focus on a screen, try proofing on paper; I always find that I can read a printed document much more closely and carefully. Also, don’t be ashamed to look things up. Few editors can get away without, at least occasionally, referring to a style manual or dictionary. There’s no shame in not being sure, but there could be embarrassing consequences if you get something wrong. 

What’s your least favourite Word Crime?

Is there a spelling, punctuation or grammar error that really gets your goat? A mistake that makes you shudder with rage? Write to us in the comments box below and let us know!

Banner image: A Postrophe Rules by William Murphy is licenced under CC BY 2.0

AuthorAlex Stevenson