I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Grammar makes for a busy pharmacist!

Last night I saw a TV ad for some (legal) drugs for children’s colds.

Pharmacist checking labels on drug boxes.

Pharmacists must pay careful attention to details…

It was nothing particularly out of the ordinary until I read the fine print at the end, which was grammatically poor.

For children under two years, contact the pharmacist.

Obviously there is only one pharmacist we could ask – must be a mighty busy person though if we only have one in Australia!

The grammar…

In short, using the word ‘the’ implies there is one so we correctly write ‘the Prime Minister is visiting the Governor General’.

When used as an article for a noun, the word ‘the’ signifies that the relevant noun is either unique or somewhat special. For example, the Tour de France is the long distance bike race – obviously, there are other long distance bike races but the Tour De France is the ultimate and best known one so using ‘the’ emphasises its importance.

So the ad would have been better telling us to contact ‘your pharmacist’ or ‘a pharmacist’.


* Image courtesy of 123rf

Get the details right

Are you a details person?

Many people are bored by details (probably all of us really – we just like details in some things, not all things) and that includes details of grammar and good writing.

You can’t convince me with poor attention to details

I received a letter a few days ago.

Images of sample letters from Word Constructions

A nicely presented letter has little value if the details in the letter are wrong.

I like getting letters, and it doesn’t happen as often now we have so many electronic options available to us. So it’s disappointing when the letter turns out to be spam or a scam rather than something interesting.

This particular letter I recognised as spam straight away as I’ve received rubbish from this group before (and so have clients who luckily ask me if it is legitimate before acting).

However, standing in the sun was nice so I actually read their letter and found numerous reasons to not act as they wished.

  1. they were using an email address I have never used so obviously made it up – to convince me you are credible, use my real email address
  2. they missed the .au in my email and website addresses – and coming from an Australian company wanting to promote me in an Australian directory makes it even more pathetic to my mind. It wouldn’t take long to look at my website to discover the .au in the URL
  3. it was sent to my home address but addressed to Word Constructions – a detail that made me instantly suspicious anyway.
  4. paragraph one includes “This now includes additional subscriber benefits listed below” which is grammatically poor; paragraph three includes “… entitle you to additional subscriber benefits (see below).”
    However, the letter does not contain any subscriber benefits.
  5. a smaller detail is lack of consistency such as “The Internet reaches 15 million… (internet analysis…” (Internet or internet – they need to choose one and list that in a style guide)
  6. multiple sentences were missing words or just didn’t make sense – one will be discussed and improved in my March newsletter I think!
  7. two sentences in a row ‘kindly’ requested me to do something – is it kind of me to sign a form to (supposedly) get promotion via their directory?

 Businesses need to watch the details

Get the details right and people are not distracted by the mistakes – meaning they can focus on your call to action or message.
[Tweet “Get the details right and people are not distracted by mistakes”]
Get the details wrong and people doubt your professionalism and worry whether you pay attention to details when they are paying you. That is, if you throw together a letter instead of putting effort into every word of it, will you also rush through fixing my car, cutting my hair, building my house, designing my website and so on?

It’s nice to think people will ignore errors because we’re nice people with good intentions.

But first impressions count and if those incorrect details are the first thing a potential customer sees, it can be enough to give your competitor the job.

So how does your business avoid errors in the details?

How does your business react to potential suppliers if they get details wrong?

The grammar of blog headings

It may seem like a strange blog heading, the grammar of blog headings, but I was asked the question so here is my answer!

Headings and gramamrThe heading or title of a blog post is usually the first thing someone will see and has a huge impact on whether anyone reads the actual content of the post, and therefore on the success of that blog post. Making it enticing is worth spending some time on, and you don’t want to undo those efforts by using inappropriate grammar and spelling.

So what is the correct format for a blog heading?

  1.  Do not write it all in capital letters – that is considered to be yelling and therefore arrogant, plus it is harder to read anyway
  2. Unless you have a formal and old-fashioned brand style, use sentence case rather than title case for the heading – that is, use as few capital letters as is necessary
  3. Use basic grammar and punctuation rules such as a capital letter for a noun, match plural/singular nouns and verbs, and put apostrophes in the correct places
  4. Check all words are spelt correctly
  5. Make sure the title makes sense. Titles can sometimes have fewer words than an equivalent sentence (e.g. ‘the grammar of blog headings’ is fine for a title but in the body of a post I need to add more such as ‘the grammar of a blog heading can impact on your credibility.’) but include enough words to convey the meaning (I couldn’t use ‘The grammar blog headings’ for instance)
Have you noticed bad grammar in any titles? How did that impact on you reading that blog post (or article)?

repeat the boring stuff…

Do you get bored with hearing the same stuff a number of times? What do you do about repeated information?

As I wrote a few days ago, some repetition of stuff is necessary to succeed – either because it takes a few goes to really understand it or the timing wasn’t right initially or even just as a reminder that it is still important.

I agree with Jack that looking professional is important – and that includes care with grammar, spelling, effective links and care of details. So I write about those topics quite often, which may seem boring to some I know, but I do try to cover a range of topics within clear and professional communications.

Given the amount of poor writing I come across every day, I see there is a need for a repetition of grammar and spelling tips, too!

If you are good at grammar and spelling – my apoliges for repeating what you already know! But why not take this opportunity to tell me what other topics you would like me to write about?

Using apostrophes

Many people claim that they don’t understand apostrophes. At least, they don’t understand where to put them!

Basically, an apostrophe indicates that someone or something owns something else. For example, the boy’s dog – the boy owns the dog.

For a singular owner, it’s easy. The apostrophe and an s come after the word – boy’s, Mary’s and woman’s.

Its also easy if a plural term exists, such as men’s, crowd’s, children’s and management’s.

If the owner ends in s, the apostrophe comes after the s without an additional s. So the horses’ stable and the Smiths’ house are correct.

Apostrophes are also required in abbreviations to show letters are missing. For instance, are not becomes aren’t and do not becomes don’t.

The trickiest word is its…

It’s is the abbreviation of it is; the possessive term is its. So it’s raining today, but the horse lost its shoe.

So there are no apostrophes for decades, numbers, plural abbreviations or plural items – some correct examples are
– during the 60s
– she bought some CDs
– find all the As
– look at my photos
– he is in his 90s
– a list of URLs
– the babies are sleeping
– we will have three pizzas please.

Details count…

I wonder how any writer can downplay the importance of the details – if we all ignored grammar and spelling, our writing would become impossible to understand.

I’m the first to agree that spelling correctly and noticing the small aspects of grammar and flow are boring  – there’s no way to make them sexy or as appealing as catchy headlines or flashy imagery. But that doesn’t mean they can be ignored for good communication and good marketing.

Here are some reasons:

  • details show care – many customers will think “if he can’t be bothered proofreading or checking details, how do I know he can be bothered doing the details when working for me?”
  • details affect meaning –  using the wrong word (consider boy and buoy or assistants and assistance) or moving a comma can make a huge difference to the meaning. In business terms, some of my corporate clients are bound by regulations so little details are important to avoid legal and/or financial consequences – for them (and many businesses) details have to come above marketing
  • errors distract from the document – you want people to read the message of your business writing, not get distracted by lots of errors. As soon as someone notices an error or has to reread it for understanding, they are distracted and your message is diluted.

Personally, I wouldn’t consider using the services of a writer who states (or demonstrates!) spelling and grammar aren’t important in what they do – it’s like a doctor not worrying about the boring details of dosage in prescriptions or an accountant disregarding careful arithmetic!

We’re all human and the odd mistake can slip through, but they should be infrequent rather than acceptable.

To me, grammar is the foundation for good writing – if something is done well, you won’t notice the grammar but the message is clear. Do you notice bad grammar and poor spelling?

Mad libs to teach sentence contructions?

Have you ever done some “mad libs”? Is this something you remember fondly from school days – at least more fondly than the usual grammar lessons?

Personally, I hadn’t heard of mad libs until finding them mentioned in another blog, but apparently they have been widely used to teach children some grammatical terms in a fun way – maybe this is more common in the USA, or maybe I just missed out!

Anyway, a mad lib is where you choose some randoms words – nouns, adjectives, verbs and so on – and they are inserted into a piece of writing. The end result is usually nonsensical, but funny – and especially so for children I suspect!

I remember playing games where we each wrote a type of word, folded the piece of paper and passed it on to write another word on someone else’s piece of paper. The final result there was a funny sentence. Mad libs are similar to that game, but you don’t come up with the entire story with your words.

There is a website that actually creates the mad libs by asking you for the words and then producing the story for you. I tried it, inserting various Australian nouns, verbs and adjectives (in bold below), and got the following story as a result:

A Typical History Test
By: Roger Price & Leonard Stern   
Instructions: When the Australia rings, unfold your papers and answer the following Victorians.1. What general won the Battle of Adelaide.2. Which American river said, “Give me liberty or give me trees“?3. Who was the first president of the United animals of New Zealand?4. Why did Benjamin Franklin fly a/an bird during a thunderstorm?5. Who made the first beautiful flag?Answers to Test:1. Jackson2. Mel Gibson, when he was executed by Russell Crowe for riding.3. Ian Thorpe4. He was discovering koalas.5. Sigrid Thornton

Finding a fun way to teach children the different types of words (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc) is important for them to be able to construct good sentences and stories – but it isn’t always a fun topic to study!

Mad libs are certainly light-hearted but do require some knowledge of word types to work. The mad libs site includes definitions of the word types, too, to help children learn as the select words.

Do you think this is a useful tool in teaching children what a noun/verb/adjective/etc is? I’ll be letting my children have a go at these stories and see what they think of them. If I remember, I may even ask their teachers how they view this from an educational point of view.

Use your words wisely!

New category…

I have come to realise that there are two groups of people writing for business – those who are ready for technical knowledge and those who need more help with the basics of writing and grammar. Most of my blog so far has been aimed at those with a certain level of knowledge, rather than helping those (usually sole traders and particularly WAHMs and WAHDs) who need information about the basics to present themselves in the best light.

So, I am adding a new category called “basic grammar and writing” where I can include an occasional post about topics that may seem more obvious, but are critical for good English and a professional presentation. For those who need this, I hope it helps you! And please ask about any specific topics you want to know about.

there, their or they’re?

With one exception*, my writing articles and blog entries assume some basic knowledge – if you are writing for business purposes, I assume you know the obvious rules of capital letters to start sentences, common spelling rules and the idea of paragraphs.

So I have never written about there/their/they’re – until now!

I have seen these words misused a number of times recently, and getting an email today from someone who calls herself a writer with the sentence “Their are some great news items ” was the last straw for me! (How can they own ‘are some great news’?)

If this is obvious to you, I apologise! If it isn’t, I hope this helps and I apologise for not helping you sooner!

There, they’re or their?

All 3 words sound exactly the same, but have totally different meanings and uses. Using the wrong word can make a sentence very confusing or just make the writer look silly – neither is what you want in your business (or other!) writing.

They’re is short for they are – so it is used as “They’re running late today”

There is not here – so it is used as “We will go there tomorrow”

Their shows they own something – it is used as “John and Betty will bring their car, too”

Imagine the following sentence with the wrong there/they’re/their spellings…

“They’re bringing their own car so we will meet them there.”

Use your words wisely!

* the exception is this article on basic grammar rules which I wrote to help a trainer with a communications module he was teaching.

Check presentation

I often mention checking the details, expression and grammar of your business communications. It is also very important to check the presentation as well as that is one of the first things people notice before they even read a word.

Checking means in the final form as well as in drafts, too.

I know I have prepared something carefully on my computer, checked everything carefully and then uploaded it the internet to find it does not present properly live. Sometimes it was something simple like a bad image reference, but other times I couldn’t find a fault, only a solution!

This is why good printers and designers will provide you with proofs before printing starts, just to be sure nothing has moved or changed colour during the preparation process. When checking proofs, you have to be very focused and detail orientated.

I followed a link to a website recently. The entire site was a blog (and we’ll leave having a blog as your business website for another discussion) and I read through a few pages of it. One page was an article listing 10 points that literally looked like:

  1. 1. this is our first point
  2. 2. and our second point…
  3. 3. and so on…
    11. closing paragraph one
    12. closing paragraph two

To give her the benefit of the doubt, I assume she had the article written elsewhere with one set of numbers, added it to her blog and selected numbered list again. Human error, probably; carelessness to not check the final result, definitely.

What is possibly worse are the sites you visit to find little red crosses instead of images, even when you visit again months later. It certainly gives the impression that they never look at their own site or pay attention to details – which is probably not a good impression to give prospective clients.

In my next post, I will cover some of the details I always check for in a final presentation draft.