I was really looking forward to the session on Slap My Words Up: Language in the Digital World as I’m personally offended when someone sends me a text message with awful grammar. This session was designed to look at the lack of emphasis on grammar as people get more tech-savvy and social media friendly. Where does the line on casual versus formal need to be drawn, and do journalists have a different code of rules in the online world? The speakers included Gail Marie from McKinney, Kristina Eastham from Digitaria, Neal Ungerleider from Fast Company, and Sean Carton from the University of Baltimore.
Schneider started off by saying you first have to look at whether something is a typo or an error. She said when she worked at Fast Company and wrote
everyday there was always a huge amount of content going up constantly online. Even with numerous fact checkers there’s always .5% of errors that do end up being published. She said that readers are always quick to point them out. Plus, in this day and age, mobile phones and some computer applications do realize it and can change typos (or add them when that pesky technology doesn’t get context).
Marie agreed and said that a typo is simply just a slip of the finger, as most people do type now at the speed of thoughts. She almost gets offended, it was very clear from early on that this group was well versed in grammar, but she said sometimes she just makes a typo. It happens to everyone.
Eastham said it’s actually really interesting where errors end up. You actually can’t edit a Tweet as when you do then you delete any re-tweets or conversations that followed from it. Just recently Facebook changed their options to let users edit a post and see the revised version without removing any comments on it. The social media networks are starting to catch up, understanding that errors do happen.
Plus, certain words change, as email was once hyphenated and sometimes website is spelled out as two words. Then, sometimes different rule books give different rules so that makes it even harder. But, regarding your readers, even people that don’t always understand the rule or the differences still make a judgement about what is written and how the author is using their language.
Sean brought the conversation to the business world and talked about equating brand and identity. Before these social web-savvy times, brands had a lot more control over their brand and public identity. But, today it’s became almost a collaboration between what the company says about themselves and what’s put out there in the world. Most people don’t edit their friends and give them constructive criticism to their face or on the web but that’s what consumers do all the times to big brands now.
Ungerleider said the Internet has changed what was once someone of a clearly defined line. All professional journalists he knows now under 40 started out having a blog first. People will be judged by the quality of their grammar and how effective they are in their use of language. But, in the social world people who get lots of comments about their work, for good or bad reasons sometimes even, will be the winners in the end as they have others interacting with them and standing up and taking note.
Marie then asked the question that there is more of a relaxed voice in social media, but can grammar that’s too informal hurt a writer’s voice? She said she is personally bothered by no comma in a 1,000 (I have to agree with her 1,000% on that one!). She said you have to look at who is commenting on a journalist’s article too, before judging them too harshly or being offended. Is this just a weekend blogger or a professional communicator?
Carton said though in the end, no one wants to work that hard to read a badly written story; it’s simply not worth the grammatical errors. People adapt; ad companies quickly adjust to changes that are going on in society, but journalists are the last to make the changes, as they live in stricter grammar rules. But, they are looking to adjust and either way you can’t, and shouldn’t, write like you talk.