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Can Poor Writing Skills Overshadow Good Content?

In this post Daniel Scocco answers to another question from the Problogger Question Box. Vivienne asks:

Can poor writing skills overshadow good content?

Considering that I am not a native English speaker, I wish that the answer to this question was “no.” Unfortunately the opposite seems to be true; poor writing skills do can affect your otherwise witty and useful content.

Grammatical mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect punctuation and poorly structured sentences can make your content confusing, if not utterly unreadable. If you then consider the fact that we have hundreds of blogs on every niche these days, you can see that the writing quality could be the difference between a loyal and a lost reader.

Now one could say: “well, but I know a blogger that has thousands of readers and makes thousands of dollars monthly, yet he does not have superb writing skills and his content is often crippled with grammatical mistakes.”

Similar cases do exist, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Additionally, if you pay attention to these bloggers, you will notice that their blogs do not represent their main business, and that they are seen as experts on their niches. The authority factor over-weights poor writing skills.

Suppose you have an online marketing guru that is able to generate thousands of dollars in revenues from his activities. People would be interested in his ideas and tips, regardless of how they are presented.

If you are a superstar on your niche, therefore, perhaps you could get away with frequent grammatical mistakes and poor writing skills (and even in that situation improving the writing quality would only benefit you). If you are in the middle of the pack like most of us, however, you probably should pay attention to your words and sentences more closely.

Don’t get me wrong here; I am not arguing that one should be able to write Shakespearean novels to be a successful blogger. But at the very minimum you want to respect the basic grammatical rules and avoid misspelled words.

How does one improve his writing skills, though? Below you will find 3 points that can help you with this task.

1. Avoid the common mistakes

The Pareto principle states that for many events 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This principle holds true to writing as well. I would say that 80% of what people write incorrectly come from 20% of all the possible mistakes. That is, we are talking about a small number of common mistakes that people repeat over and over again.

What are these common mistakes? Its for it’s, alot for a lot, your for you’re, their for they’re, affect for effect and so on. Copyblogger is a wonderful resource for this topic, and the three links below should get you started.

Related links:

2. Proofread

I would say that over-emphasizing the importance of proofreading would be a very difficult task. I try to proofread twice all my articles and text pieces, and still once in a while a typo appears.

Sure, proofreading is not what one would call a pleasant activity, but it is necessary. Additionally, if you make it a habit and adopt some clever strategies, you will see that it will consume less time and it will become less of a pain.

On the links below you will find several strategies and tips that you can use to make your proofreading and editing sessions more effective.

Related links:

3. Expand your vocabulary and master the grammar basics

Regardless of your profession, the ability to write and communicate in a clear and concise fashion is essential. In order to do so, however, you need to have a vast vocabulary and a solid understanding of the basic grammar rules.

There are several resources and books that you can use for that purpose. On the links below you will find a newsletter that delivers one word every day to your inbox, the BBC resource website dedicated to people that want to learn the English language and the Wikipedia page for English grammar.

Related links:

This post was written by Daniel Scocco from the wonderful Daily Blog Tips (a blog on my daily read list that should be on yours too).

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Comments

  1. jhay says:

    Blogging is a written medium so good and decent grammar is a must. It will also help ‘sell’ good content even more.

  2. simon says:

    Of course poor writing skills will over shadow your content, simple checks like proofread, grammar etc will make a huge difference to your post.

    We have made mistakes when rushing out a post but if we spend that 10 minutes we can improve the quality and this will lead a much improved content and greater readership..

  3. I have to admit I need to check my posts more. I have found some weeks later that I knew I read over before I posted, but must have missed a obvious error. It helps a lot to put a little time between writing and editing, because you read what you want to read right after you have written a post.

  4. TechPavan says:

    Of course, a good writing skills is very much important for a blogger. But I feel, this is most applicable for blogs which relate themselves about subjects like blogging, languages, personal interests, personal blogs and many more such things like hobbies, music… I don’t think that these writing skills are not of very high concern for a technical blog. A tech blogger like me must provide a very good content which people are looking for and the presentation should be done in a very simple English and lessening the use of hi-fi wordings will help for a technical blogger….

  5. Nice post, you should always try to write better!

  6. Timothy Andrw says:

    Because there are so many blogs out there, people judge a site/blog by more than its content. Primarily this is based on site design, but at some level involves grammatical errors.

    When you see a typo or a mistake in grammar on a site, that site is held in lower esteem in your eyes. I’d say this is involuntary.

    To complement good content, a site/blog must be polished, especially in these areas.

  7. Tibi Puiu says:

    Agreed, first learn how to properly write and spell, before undergoing any kind of blogging activity. If you can’t reach a decent level of writing then you might as well stop right and cease wasting everybody’s time.

  8. Generally, I can tell when someone isn’t a native English speaker, as it easily reflects through their blog. However, if their content is good, it usually doesn’t matter to me! *=) However, I do encourage learning the language if you are going to be blogging in it.

    Great post!

  9. Timothy, sometime ago Vizy answers carried an extensive research regarding how people interact with blogs.

    If I am not wrong over 60% of the people that answered their survey said that “writing quality” if the first factor that they use to evaluate the overall quality of a blog or website.

  10. Gerald Neo says:

    Here’s another site that I have been using to improve my grammar.

    http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm

    Hope it’s useful to everyone.

  11. Jay Wigley says:

    Or you could hire an editor on an extremely part time basis at a decent rate to just do proofing, or as a sounding board. It might sound insane to hire someone to help with a blog, but if you want to use it to create authority, or street cred, then just imagine the return on the investment.

  12. Bent says:

    Agreed..Now i try to improve my english through my blog..that from that I can polish up my writing skill everyday..I love blogging

  13. banji says:

    I too am not a native English speaker and I learn most of my English watching sitcom without reading the subtitles.

    I once was talking to a native speaker and he was so confused with what I’m talking about. He told me that it was my flat speech that was making everything hard to understand. Apparently stress out certain words are important in spoken language.

    Blogging wise, It is just as important to have good grammar and vocabulary. It is our intention to communicate now, isn’t it?

  14. Troy says:

    I agree entirely, but you put it best “poor writing skills do can affect your otherwise witty and useful content.” :D

  15. Ari says:

    Bad grammar doesnt seem to have affected Shoemoney’s success.

    http://www.shoemoney.com/2008/01/27/can-you-suck-at-grammer-and-have-a-successful-blog/

  16. I couldn’t agree anymore than I already do. Grammar is very important. I can’t say that I’m perfect with it, but I do try my hardest.

    If I read a post that has absolutely horrible grammar, I will almost never visit that site again because I can’t stand reading through that kind of language.

    Content is important, but so is being smart about how you present the content.

  17. Mike Panic says:

    On one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written, it was laced with grammar errors and typos. I was so excited to get it finished and knew it was going to be a great article, I simply didn’t re-read it or spell check as well as I should have.

    The first half dozen comments were people pointing out these errors, at which point I had to go fix them with my tail between my legs.

  18. M says:

    I see what Troy saw.

    I have to say I don’t completely agree. Yes, if the grammar and/or spelling is so bad that the nuance and meaning has completely diminished, it would have a devastating effect.

    However, an exception to this is IF:
    - The title is catchy and infectious;
    - There is a one- or two-liner opening that tells that skillfully teases the reader; AND
    - The content is good.

    I guarantee you your readers will forgive and ignore the spelling/grammatical mistakes.

    Hence why I saw, read and commented on this entry despite “poor writing skills do can affect your otherwise witty and useful content.”

    Humble M

  19. Tom Beaton says:

    Wow Daniel – I would never have guessed your first language was no English. You do a good job of writing and to be honest, do it much better than most English or American people.

    I always write in a word processor first, spell check, leave for a few hours or days, then come back and read again. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of leaving your work for a few hours or days though, so you need to be extra careful. I am a big fan of having someone else read my work before I publish it. It is great feedback and a fresh pair of eyes which are more likely to spot some of the errors.

  20. Lid says:

    I’ve always believed that writing well means making sure you get the words right. A great site that has helped me countless times is Paul Brian’s Common Errors in English – listing the most often misused words.

  21. Good grammar and syntax are a must when you have hundreds of blogs per niche..

    There’s always room to improve.

    Cheers,
    Alex.

  22. David Safar says:

    I agree that good writing is important to a blog, although the occasional spelling or grammar error will not diminish the impact of an otherwise high-quality site. It is only when the errors become too frequent or too glaring that they detract from the content. I follow a few blogs and usually notice at least one minor error in each post. They don’t bother me, though, so long as the content is interesting and valuable and the errors are the exception and not the rule.

    I’m curious, do you think there’s a market for blog proofreading and editing services?

  23. LiveCrunch says:

    I have one blog that is pretty successful in “Make money online” niche. When I started writing I had grammar mistakes and I still have but not as before. If you take a look at my first 5 posts and 5 last posts you will see remarkable difference in my writing skill. Eventually i will get to the point of writing where I will have less writing skills then some Americans.

    It is hard for me to write because I write in 5 different languages on daily basis :)

    oh about my blog

    http://www.bontb.com

    I think that people which don’t have English writing skills and still want to catch that audience will have to be patient with posting.

    http://www.bontb.com/2008/02/grammar-mistakes-dont-rush-writing/

  24. Fun Times says:

    Here’s a sign you’re a poor writer:

    You own a blog.

    Cheers,

    Jameson

  25. I only had time to read your title, but yes poor writing skills will always ruin solid content. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world when someone has something genuinely interesting to say but can’t string the sentences together to deliver it in a coherent manner. I don’t even think that is snobbish in this day in age with dictionaries, thesauruses and spellcheckers all freely available on computers.

  26. Barbara says:

    Although I have been known to make typos, I try to proofread my posts several times. I find if I read my posts out loud, it helps me to find errors in grammar and/or spelling.

    If I land on a site and it’s filled with typos, errors in grammar, etc, I begin to question the credibility of the author. If I know it’s written by a non-English speaking blogger, I give them the benefit of the doubt (to a degree)

  27. One good point to note is that keeping a blog up is usually a very good way to improve one’s writing skills as well.

    Practice is essential to all endeavors, so writing every other day on blog will surely make you a stronger writer over the time.

  28. M says:

    A tip for checking typos: Read backwards.

  29. Burt Walker says:

    Great article. You might however try some of your own advice. Proof reading helps. Second sentence, first paragraph: “poor writing skills do can affect your otherwise witty and useful content.”

  30. Marrianne Williams says:

    It really does help to have someone else proofread your copy for you. I know it’s not always possible – but if you can – you should. YOU know what you are trying to say when you create a sentence and you often read it from that perspective. When someone else reads the sentence they can catch errors that your eyes/mind tricked you into thinking was correct.

  31. Rebecca says:

    Common word mistakes I notice from bloggers are there and they’re. Sounding the name but having completely different meanings. Also, wander and wonder, although, they sound different in english in other languages they may tend to sound the same, but clearly have different meanings.

  32. If I can understand what the writer means without too much effort, the grammatical mistakes can be tolerated. If I have to think too hard or too often, I will pass on any additional posts.

  33. Michael Long says:

    No matter what the subject, proper spellling and grammar are critical.

    Why? To me it comes down to professionalism. If your writing is sloppy and error-prone, then where else will those same slipshod behaviors manifest themselves?

    What else haven’t you bothered to check? What other details are you willing to skip, because they too “aren’t important”?

  34. The Rookie says:

    This has to be some kind of joke, right? I am the last person in the world to criticize anyone’s writing ability and I admit that. I know you aren’t a native English speaker, but your post was full of grammatical and punctuation errors. How can you write a post about these topics with your own errors and expect to be taken seriously? Was your main point to be ironic because your post is full of these?

  35. Tom Hanna says:

    It’s a shame that the question even has to be asked. Considering that the content of most blogs (videoblogs and photoblogs excluded) IS writing, it’s hard to see how anyone could even imagine that they have good content if the writing is poor.

  36. Daphne says:

    I agree with your point. But I think it is really part of having a good content that you also need to have a good writing skills. Poor writing skills or misspelled words could lead your point to another subject…

    Creative writing can also be practiced for a better quality content… :)

  37. Lex G says:

    I agree with Daniel Scocco on this topic … I feel it’s very important to try write correctly.

    It helps you dive into the material as well, as usually you can lift conceptual mistakes out of your post which you didn’t even realize were there …

  38. nishu says:

    thats very true Daniel.

    At my blog .. some of the new visitors point out mistakes. It makes blog look shabby.

    And it happens even after proof reading the content. Some simple ignorable mistakes just slip through.

  39. CatherineL says:

    Hi Daniel – This is so true. And you’ve proved that you can improve your writing skills – I would never have guessed that English wasn’t your first language.

  40. Good quality content always seems to make my viewers stay longer. When I view a site and it lacks quality writing skills I tend to leave the site.

  41. Looks like everyone agrees that good grammar makes a significant and important difference. Within the comments, there were 2 suggestions worth highlighting:

    Hire an editor
    (suggested by Jay Wigley)

    This seems an impossibility for any blog that is starting; but there may be a better way to achieve the same effect: Barter your skills. Find another aspiring blogger, and agree that you will proof-read each others’ posts. Of course, you will want to find someone that has decent grammar and proof-reading skills; but many of the mistakes we make go unnoticed because they ‘fall outside of our field of vision’ so to speak. A second pair of eyes makes a massive difference for these cases.

    Time-shift your proof-reading
    (Suggested by Tom Beaton)

    Tom mentioned he writes his posts in a word processor, and then leaves them there ‘for a few hours or days’. A technique I have successfully used is to re-read published posts some weeks after they’ve gone live. Often times I find small typos and grammatical mistakes that, once corrected, give my posts that little bit of extra polish.

    Hope these suggestions help those in their quest to successful blogging,

    -The Crazy Colombian
    http://roacc.wordpress.com

  42. Terry Finley says:

    Editing is boring and difficult, but necessary
    for writing to be great.

  43. kalpesh says:

    I perfectly agree with you. Sometimes clients are unreasonable, it is us writers who have to decide whether to sell our talent for money or creative satisfaction. Most often writers write for paltry sums, this disturbs the whole equation of the industry. Even websites like Guru.com etc. should have certain bidding standards to protect writing industry in general.

  44. I have to agree, the truth of the matter is that when someone reads a piece written by anyone else they somehow expect it to be perfectly structured and professionallywritten everytime. It detracts from the importance of what you are saying when the reader sits there counting your mistakes.

  45. Yes, very truly said that ‘poor writing skills overshadow good content’. I am not saying one has to be master in writing but at least one must have some knowledge to good writing skills. Remember, grammar plays an important part here.

  46. Martin says:

    tell Shoemoney about it. he seems to be successful despite his weak language though.

  47. Brian Clark says:

    >>tell Shoemoney about it. he seems to be successful despite his weak language though.

    Yeah, but you’re not Shoemoney, and neither are most people.

    People read Jeremy because he’s *already* successful in areas of online business that don’t require good writing. If that’s not true for you, write better.

  48. Martin, here is what I wrote on the article:

    “Now one could say: “well, but I know a blogger that has thousands of readers and makes thousands of dollars monthly, yet he does not have superb writing skills and his content is often crippled with grammatical mistakes.”

    Similar cases do exist, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Additionally, if you pay attention to these bloggers, you will notice that their blogs do not represent their main business, and that they are seen as experts on their niches. The authority factor over-weights poor writing skills. “

  49. Terry Finley says:

    There are exceptions to every rule,
    but generally the rule applies.

  50. ceblogger says:

    Very true indeed!
    And every blogger should strive to improve his writing skills.

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