Proper Grammar in Blog Posts: Necessary or Obsolete?

Posted by Olivia Young

Thanks to both the Internet and social media, tech users have myriad ways to communicate. We can emote through smiley faces made of parentheses, video chat with our grandparents and translate English to Spanish ⎯ all with a mere click.

Does good grammar make your blog better? Or is proper usage an antiquated practice? Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog on Flickr via Creative Commons

Most people have learned the proper place for tech-inspired shorthand like slang and emoticons. We’ve relegated these casual additions to social communication, drawing the line at  résumés or inter-office e-mails.

But where do blogs fall on the spectrum of tech communication etiquette? Is it imperative to spell correctly and use proper grammar, or do blogs get a free pass on writing mechanics?

Blogger Penelope Trunk is of the “free pass” camp ⎯ she doesn’t think much of maintaining grammar in blogs. In her post, “Writing without typos is totally outdated,” Trunk argues for content, not construction: for her, proper grammar in the blogosphere is a thing of the past.

According to her blog, Trunk is “the author of a bestselling career advice book  and the number one career blog.” In her post – which, in fairness, sounds like a reaction to some negative reader comments – she claims blog readers want innovation and think nothing of a few misspelled words:

Will everyone please shut up about the typos on blogs? Show me someone who is blogging every day and also complains about someone’s typos. Just try. See? You can’t. Because anyone who is trying to come up with fresh ideas, and convey them in an intelligent, organized way, on a daily basis, has way too many things on their plate to complain about other peoples’ typos.

She goes on to explain why she doesn’t concern herself with proper grammar, listing reasons like “Spellchecker isn’t perfect”; “Spelling is no indication of intelligence” because some people have dyslexia; and “Perfectionism is a disease.”

Trunk even confronts the AP Stylebook (the name of which she, interestingly enough, spells following AP Style guidelines), claiming, “Real grammarians, by the way, have memorized the AP Stylebook … and few bloggers can justify spending the years it takes to memorize the AP Stylebook. So you could spend your life reading the AP Stylebook, or you could spend your life spouting ideas.”

While it’s hard to buy Trunk’s argument with that pleasant ultimatum in mind, the overload of communication options has certainly led to a broader perspective on which style of writing is correct in different contexts. We can all agree that a college student shouldn’t write “u” in place of “you” in a term paper, although such abbreviation is perfectly acceptable in a text message. We can mash words together in hashtags, but, outside of Twitter, readers need spaces between words.

So, we’re back to the beginning: Where does grammar fit into blog posts? Can bloggers take liberty with writing conventions?

Trunk’s heart may be in the right place; more than anything, she advocates creativity and new ideas. However, bloggers who wish to be taken seriously shouldn’t wantonly disregard grammar. As more writers turn to their blogs as professional media outlets, it’s imperative to be conscientious with grammar – proper usage will clarify the message for the reader.

Are fresh ideas more important than spelling “sentence” correctly or following AP Style? How can bloggers find a happy medium between the two? Will we eventually develop a more unified blogging etiquette like our unspoken guidelines for emoticons and acronyms?

I think bloggers can be funny, innovative and grammatically correct all at once – it just takes a little more effort on their part.

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8 responses to “Proper Grammar in Blog Posts: Necessary or Obsolete?

  1. Emily - Drake University

    I read Trunk’s blog post earlier this week and I very much disagree. Intelligent, well thought out ideas and correct spelling and grammar are not mutually exclusive. Blogs are a form of published work; the writer should care enough to read through for errors. If you’re not sure, check. You don’t have to memorize the AP Stylebook to use correct grammar. They sell it, buy a copy and use it for reference. I agree with you, Olivia, that bloggers can entertain and grammatically correct with a little effort. And bloggers may make mistakes, but the beauty about them is the ability to correct any mistakes and update the post. I hope readers still expect blogs to use proper punctuation and grammar.

    • We’re on the same page with this – I think a blog is significantly more impressive if the blogger has taken the time to weave a grammatically correct post. I respect the writer a lot more for their careful writing.

  2. I’m one of those “diseased” perfectionists and a proud proponent of proper grammar and punctuation. Needless to say, Trunk and I would not get along. Yes, fresh content is important, but the way in which it is delivered has just as much value. I applaud this girl for posting every day; that shows dedication. However, simply spouting out new subject matter daily and paying no mind to how it is projected is careless and lazy. Employers are looking for people that go above and beyond, so put in the extra effort. People notice, and it makes you feel good.

    • Your mention of employers is something I thought about a lot when I wrote this post. Blogs aren’t just for fun anymore: Future employers look at blogs as representations of our work. We need to develop a distinct voice and remain conscious of our web presence while demonstrating we understand grammatical conventions.

  3. I completely understand what Trunk is saying. In my tutoring class, we have had discussions about learning grammar (terminology, school grammar lessons) and how it can negatively affect writing when enforced too much. But we talked about this in the realm of “Basic Writers” and students. Bloggers are not just learning to write, especially if they’re getting paid. I lose confidence in a text when there is a misspelling or error. Every error I find reduces my confidence until I stop reading. And when my friends text me with acronyms I’m not familiar with, misspellings or poor grammar, I have to ask what the heck they’re talking about. They then have to spend extra time trying to relay their message. It isn’t worth it. Also, if Trunk is a professional blogger, she needs to suck it up and write right. If you get paid to spread ideas, do it in a clear way and be happy for the job. Even the way Trunk defends her stand sounds bitter and childish. Telling people to “shut up” is rude. If she’s mad at people who have pointed out mistakes, she needs to learn to correct them, brush it off or stop blogging. It’s a harsh world. Or at the very least, ask people not to correct you in an adult way. There is no way I could agree with her. End rant.

    • I can see your point about exceedingly accurate grammar hindering the final message. (Case in point: the sentence I just wrote.) We’ve noted in class that, most of the time, writers need to keep the most typical reader in mind – and these readers are probably not grammarians. However, Trunk’s approach is extreme and, especially when she attacks the AP Stylebook, almost discredits her whole claim. Good writers can find the balance between fresh ideas and legible, conventional grammar.

  4. This is similar to my post about blogs earlier this month. I think the blogesphere is an interesting gray area of journalism that can be both entertaining and a healthy dose of freedom of speech.
    Personally, I think everyone should practice proper grammar to the best of their ability, especially when you want to represent yourself as being knowledgeable on a topic.

  5. You asked good questions in your post about how journalism and blogs don’t necessarily go together because of the amount of information available. A blogger isn’t necessarily a journalist, but blogs can be useful and personalized tools. For journalists, then, it’s especially important to master that balance between grammar and readability.

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