It was a brisk winter evening.
While editing a Copyblogger article written by Brian Clark, the sound of my fingers tapping on my keyboard harmoniously blended with the rain pattering on the window next to my desk, as the light from the full moon illuminated my computer monitor.
Then, as the clock struck midnight, something strange happened. My teeth sharpened, my rational mind diminished, and my hands turned into claws hell-bent on changing multiple instances of “who” in Brian’s post to “whom.”
Like many editors before me, I became a Grammar Werewolf.
The next day, I woke up groggy, with little memory of what happened … until I got a message from Brian via carrier pigeon:
“The whom is grammatically correct, but it’s bad copy.”
My heart sank into my stomach. Of course it’s bad copy.
Luckily, we work with digital content that can be updated even after it’s published.
No harm, no foul. But a great lesson. Especially for anyone who takes comfort in using grammar-checking software to review their writing.
Now, broken grammar is not the goal. Clear, coherent, focused writing that is easy to understand typically uses proper grammar and spelling.
As an editor, I shouldn’t be picky about how someone achieves that goal. If there are free digital tools that help someone who writes clarify their message, that’s a good thing.
But as a writer, grammar checkers irk me when they are regarded as tools that will improve your content.
And that’s why I chose the words “someone who writes” above.
Are you someone who writes or are you a writer?
You may scoff at me seemingly splitting hairs, but the difference is significant for professional writers who want to make a living as content marketing strategists.
Using proper grammar doesn’t make you a good editor
There’s a line in an ad for a popular grammar checker that says, “It’s like having your own personal proofreader.”
Actually, it’s not. Your own personal proofreader would be a human being, not computer software.
A piece of computer software doesn’t know your company and your brand.
Editors help content marketers produce engaging and entertaining experiences for their audiences. They’re trained professionals who continually spend time honing their skills. They know grammar, yes, but they also know how nuanced good writing is.
Getting writing suggestions from computer software isn’t equivalent to editing and proofreading a draft.
So, when someone uses a grammar checker as their “editing process,” it’s almost an insult to the craft of writing.
Using proper grammar doesn’t make you a good writer
This is the crux of the matter.
You have to know the rules to break the rules and push yourself creatively.
Good writers have learned grammar and usage; they don’t need to rely on a piece of software. And if they write something that isn’t quite grammatically sound, their writing doesn’t look sloppy. It’s not unicorn vomit.
For example, Brian’s article made perfect sense with the word “who” instead of “whom.” And using “whom” actually weakened his text. A good writer recognizes the difference and trusts his instincts over “the rules.”
Checking your grammar is about the bare minimum you can do, and proper grammar doesn’t necessarily communicate a distinct voice that strengthens your content.
Using proper grammar doesn’t make you a good content marketer
When immediately publishing content after running a draft through a grammar checker is an acceptable practice, we end up with an avalanche of mediocre content online.
A good portion of that mediocre content is so, so boring. Does it have exquisite grammar? Perhaps. But no one pays attention to it because it’s boring.
Proper grammar alone doesn’t persuade anyone to care about your social media update, email newsletter, or blog post.
It doesn’t convince someone to choose your company.
There’s a reason grammar checkers are free …
Proper grammar is cheap.
But your connection with your audience through sophisticated content is priceless.
If you rely on a grammar checker to “fix” your writing — without learning those language rules to become a better editor, writer, and content marketer — you’re just going through the motions of content marketing.
And going through the motions will lead to disappointing results.
It’s superficial. It’s not strategic.