Mind your language

Last weekend I visited a local heritage site where I picked up a leaflet about its history. When I read it later I found myself getting frustrated at the lack of care that had gone in to its creation; an extra space here, a misspelling there, a complex sentence. I’ve found this happening a lot lately – I can’t disengage my proof reading, copy editing brain.

The people I was with were sympathetic; they’re also language geeks. But one said:

“No one but the people in this room will care. Just read it for the facts.”

Was she right? Probably in this case. The leaflet did its job. The information I wanted was there. The errors were minor and didn’t stop me from understanding what was written.

In a recent blog post Seth Godin asks himself a similar question – does it matter that a shop selling paper and pens doesn’t know the difference between stationary and stationery? He concludes that while it may only stop him (and me) from shopping there if formalities of language are important to us then they are cheap ways to earn trust.

I agree and think that there are times when language errors like this do matter; when they impact on your brand and your reputation. An obvious place this┬ádamage to your reputation can occur is when the errors are on your website. Especially if you’re in the business of education.