Grammar Mistakes
Do I capitalize that word or not?

I must be getting more sensitive to bad grammar in blog posts, email newsletters and other types of content marketing. These errors glare out from the content and totally distract me from the topic of interest. The sad truth is that these grammar mistakes are found in the material of some of the top content marketing authors. Does this mean that the misuse of punctuation, capitalization and spelling is accepted in our writing?

Informal writing with a casual tone is appropriate for many of our content marketing products such as blogging and social media. However, using this less formal writing style sometimes has us bending the grammar rules. But, no matter how lenient the rules have become, there are some grammar mistakes that are never appropriate and can make your content appear sloppy. That is not an image a professional with an expert reputation wants to project. And although it is not definitive with respect to Google, why take the chance that poor grammar and typos may affect how our content is ranked.

Common grammar mistakes

Apostrophe misuses

An apostrophe is used to show possession or contraction. Examples:

  • Use an apostrophe after a noun to make it possessive. Read this author’s work on content marketing.
  • Use an apostrophe to create a contraction. It’s highly possible that our content has gone viral.
  • Never use an apostrophe to make a noun plural as in “I have two cat’s”.

Excessive use of commas or semicolons

Commas and semicolons have a purpose in writing, but people have begun to overuse both in the wrong places.

It appears that writers put commas into sentences where they would pause while speaking. Sometimes that may be correct but often times not. Check out the many grammar rules for using commas correctly in your writing.

Semicolons are often used in place of commas. If you simplify your writing, you may never need to use a semicolon, but there are cases when semicolons are useful at making your writing clearer and controlling the flow.

Capitalization mistakes

People seem to be a bit “cap happy” in their writing these days. Capitalizing words should not be a random act. There are rules that can help you understand when and when not to hit the shift key.

You should always capitalize:

  • The first word in a sentence
  • Titles of books, articles, blog posts and music
  • Days, months and holidays
  • Seasons when they are in a title, not in general writing such as “this winter has been harsh”
  • Initials and acronyms
  • The pronoun “I”
  • Names of places, nationalities, languages and ethnic groups
  • Trademarks and brand names
  • Words used as proper names but not when used in general – “I saw Uncle Joe the other day. I have not heard from my uncle recently.”
  • Titles preceding a name but not those that follow or are used as general words – President Brown of ABC company; Joe Brown, president of ABC company; The president called to discuss his budget today.

What about capitalization in bullet points? There are several views on the use of punctuation and capitalization for bullets. Here is my take on the rules:

  • Start each bullet point with a capital letter for easier reading.
  • Do not capitalize every word in the bullet unless the words are proper names.
  • Be consistent in your sentence structure and punctuation – start all bullets with nouns or verbs and leave off the punctuation if the bullets are not complete sentences.

Where it really becomes confusing is in reference to departments, services or expertise.

  • Debra works in the Marketing Department
  • Debra’s specialty is marketing
  • Debra works in Marketing
  • Do you know some marketing people who can help in this project?

Finally a bulleted list of services:

  • Marketing
  • Human resources
  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Mergers and acquisitions

Do not mistake bulleted lists for website navigation with all words capitalized as a normal bulleted list. Most website navigation is generated from page titles, for which capitalization of each word is correct.

Common spelling mistakes

  • It’s vs. its – “It’s” is a contraction for it is. Its is a possessive pronoun. Example: It’s confusing to read a sentence with bad grammar because it keeps the reader from understanding its meaning. When unsure which to use, say “it is” instead. If the sentence makes sense, the contraction is correct.
  • You’re vs. your – “You’re” is a contraction for you are. Your is a possessive pronoun. You’re not correct if you write “your not correct”. You better go back and proofread your content.
  • Affect vs. effect – Affect is a verb. Your behavior affects those around you. The effect of your behavior is that people are annoyed.
  • There, their and they’re – “There” denotes a place. Let’s go there tonight. “Their” is possessive for more than one person. Their behavior did not make sense to me. “They’re” is a contraction of the words they are. They’re having a lot of fun.
  • Then vs. than – “Than” is used when comparing. “Then” is used in all other cases.
  • Me, myself and I – “Send your report to myself” makes me want to scream. Send your report to me. You wouldn’t say, “Send your report to I”, so never say “Send your report to Joe and I”. When in doubt, take the other person’s name out of the sentence and see if it still sounds correct. Myself has minimal use other than “I thought to myself, grammar is complex”.

One final hot button

If you use WordPress, check with your web designer for how to best use the formatting that is set up in your theme. Most themes have styled bullets, headings and font types, weights and sizes that guarantee a consistent look. Do not randomly change the font family, size or color throughout your website as it disrupts your brand. So although this is not grammar and typos, a blog post that has a different font than the rest of your site, or different fonts scattered throughout the post itself, is a distraction that affects your brand.

How to get help

English grammar is complex. If you need some help writing error free content, there are tools available that can proofread and help you output quality content. In addition, there are plenty of blogs on grammar, spelling and capitalization that can help answer your questions.

What grammar mistakes do you find most annoying?