I'm a style geek. When I see a typo in Newsweek I rejoice. Aha! I also know not everyone will even notice it (or care, for that matter), which puts me in a special club with other style geeks, and I know I can rely on my fellow geeks to bring this error to their attention (which they will, in great numbers). But the truth is, I don't find many style or grammar errors in Newsweek, and for this I hold them in high esteem. Their consistency and attention to the details makes me believe the magazine, the writers, the editors, and the copy editors, as well as the company behind it (even if I don't know who that company is), are super smart and professional. I have no problem believing that their careful attention is because they care about their readers.
But, maybe misspellings, a misplaced comma or period outside of a closing quotation mark, or using which when you should use that doesn't bother you one iota. Great, you're not a geek like me. You don't proofread menus at a restaurant or read blogs about the misuse of quotation marks, but you do need to care for the sake of your company.
Looking smart is always better than looking not-smart. Being careful, showing attention to detail, presenting only your best, is important to your customers and builds credibility. It demonstrates your professionalism, that you know your business, and that you will care about theirs. Even if you're not a true geek, go to a new website and if you find careless errors, you may just question their legitimacy.
Have I convinced you? If I have, here's what I do and you can do it too:
- Choose a style guide. I like Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook. It can be any one that you like, or if you don't know of any, just pick one.
- Make your own internal style guide for all the things that aren't in the style guide that are peculiar to your industry or area of expertise. Note these styles. The style guide you choose may say to lowercase job titles, but you want to capitalize them. Fine! Consistency rules. Just note it and do it.
- Allow your style guide to evolve. You may decide you prefer to spell out the number ten instead of using the numeral 10. That's fine, just note it in your style guide and be sure to use that new style consistently going forward.
- Use the style guide religiously. Apply the styles to your website, your brochures, you ads, your newsletter, everything. You may want a more relaxed style guide for a blog or newsletter, where the style is more casual and conversational, but that doesn't mean misuse of the basics of grammar. Develop a style guide for each category of communications if necessary, but be consistent within that area.
- There’s so much more to this topic than this short blog post (and I’ll be exploring those here). The bottom line is that you need to present your company at its best. Think of me the next time you submit copy for your website or newsletter. If I've never heard of you, what will I think when I read your content for the first time. Will I dismiss you and your company simply because of one seemingly unimportant mistake? I might.