Why I’m not a lifeguard

Do you know the Series of Unfortunate Events books by American author Lemony Snicket? These brilliantly surreal children’s novels are masterpieces in the well-chosen word.

The plots pit the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans against wicked Count Olaf as he tries to get his hands in their fortune. In one book, the three siblings rumble Olaf’s scheme because their Aunt Josephine’s supposed ‘suicide note’ is full of misplaced apostrophes, bad spelling and creaky syntax. Yet Aunt Josephine is a stickler for grammar.

I recently heard Lynne Truss talking about how her bestselling Eats, Shoot and Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation had probably succeeded only in annoying people. A self-confessed apostrophe vigilante, she likes to take things to extremes.

Yes, pointing out punctuation mistakes and rotten typing could annoy people, but grammar matters in that image matters, and looking well-groomed matters. Not to everyone, certainly, but in business it may well matter to those you are trying to impress, i.e. your customers or clients. And who wants to look shoddy, anyway?

There’s more to life than grammar. In any piece of writing for a website, brochure or proposal, there’s weaving a compelling story and connecting with the reader. Bad English, however, can undermine everything.

If in doubt, if you’re not comfortable with grammar, punctuation and the like (and after all, I wouldn’t be comfortable, or safe, being a lifeguard, which is why I stick to what I’m good at, copywriting), it’s usually best to ask a professional to do the writing for you.