Who cares about good spelling anyway?

Your secondary school English teacher.

Your gran.

That annoying friend who smugly retweets memes of signs that say ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’.

Oh, and every single one of your clients (sorry).

Obviously, the entire English language is completely made up. It’s the product of many, many years of people trying really hard to be understood. If words are made up then spellings are even more made up. It’s only in recent centuries that we’ve agreed on spellings for certain words, and of course the Americans went and spoiled all of that anyway.

Spelling is one of those completely fabricated codes in life that we all silently agree to adhere to in exchange for a safe place in society. A bit like money, and the law. Hardly anyone actually likes spelling. It’s just another set of rules we were forced to learn as children. Certainly, some of the best writers in history were appalling spellers. The late great poet Yeats, for example, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, spelled words in a way that was described by his biographer as “at times a matter of wildly errant guesswork”.

Being a bad speller does not make you a stupid person

But consistently spelling words incorrectly does indicate a certain…laziness. There, I said it. And here I draw on a quote used in a fantastic book called A Sense of Style by Steven Pinker:

“Here is how one technology executive explains why he rejects job applications filled with errors of grammar and punctuation: “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.” 

– Steven Pinker

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t the best speller as a child. I still get it wrong, sometimes. I’m not a rules sort of person. I like to think of myself as creative. But I also understand the value of knowing rules, which is why I try extra hard to make them stick. Rules are a common language; a system that facilitates the exchange of ideas and knowledge. As pesky as they are, these rules are necessary to function in human society. For this reason, we should take the time to learn and – where appropriate, follow them.

The same goes for spelling. If you’re in your twenties or thirties and you still don’t know the difference between there, they’re and their, perhaps it’s time to spend thirty minutes or so reading up on it. Otherwise you will annoy people, and there’s nothing like the wrath of a rule fanatic.

If your spelling tends to be a bit rusty but you’re intent on writing all of your own business content without professional help, just know that it doesn’t take much to completely undermine your credibility. Not to scare you or anything.

As far as your client’s concerned, if you can’t take the time to check your spelling, where else do you cut corners?

I recently had dealings with a firm of solicitors. Every letter I received from them was littered with mistakes – unnecessary apostrophes, typos, semicolons mistaken for colons. I let them off, thinking ‘well they put all of that energy into learning the entire law, maybe they didn’t have any left over to learn the fundamentals of English grammar’. I should have listened to my instincts because the service they provided was about as good as their spelling.

As petty as it seems, spelling matters

Unless you’re an artist breaking boundaries and exposing language for the arbitrary prison of words that it is, you should make an effort to spell correctly.

Here are my 5 top tips for typo-free writing:

  1. Hire a professional content writer.
  2. Use spell check or tools like Grammarly (I shouldn’t be promoting AI that’s trying to do my job but hey ho).
  3. Read your work through three times. Once for meaning, again for grammar and spelling, and one last time just for fun.
  4. Get someone else to proof your work – it’s amazing how easily you can become blind to your own writing.
  5. Hire a professional content writer (did I already mention that one?).

And that rounds up my thoughts on spelling. It’s just one of those things we have to get right in business, as boring as it may be. If you’d like help with proofing (even if it’s a ten-minute job) then please do get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.

E-mail zoe@zoe-writer.com Hours Email: 24/7
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