I recently read an article on Hubspot’s blog that made me feel vindicated.
The article, “Why Your Brain Lets You Make Grammar Mistakes (Even If You Know Better),” describes perfectly the dilemma every professional writer faces when they write… well, anything.
Every writer I know struggles with getting it right.
Sentence structure, style, grammar, punctuation. It’s an ongoing battle.
Add in controversial topics such as the Oxford Comma and whether a passive voice is appropriate or not and you can end up in a knock-down, drag-out fight with some very serious grammarians.
The interesting thing is that the rules of grammar change. Take the Oxford Comma (or serial comma). I grew up using it like most Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Only recently did it fall out of favor.
It’s the same with double spaces between sentences. Many people grew up using a double space after a sentence. But this practice stopped years ago and a single space replaced it.
My point isn’t to ask why but to demonstrate that grammar and style is a transient thing. What might be acceptable usage today won’t necessarily be tomorrow.
Yet there are grammarians who take these things very, very seriously. And if you’re a writer, you will inevitably run into one who will swear that if you don’t shape up, she (he, they) will come after you with a very sharp pen and aerate you.
Yet what does this approach do to writing?
And more specifically, what does it do to sales copy?
Yes, you want to do things right but if you wait for everything to be perfect; you’re going to be waiting a long time.
And worse, your competition probably won’t be waiting nearly as long and will wipe the market’s floor with your Johnny-come-lately product.
There’s a constant tension between those who want to “get it right” and those who want to “get it out the door.” I admit that over the past five years, I’ve fallen in the latter group.
Businesses Still Don’t Know How to Deal With Creative
Suits aren’t sure what to do with creatives.
It’s as though they come from two different worlds. And in a way, that’s true.
The suits want order, certainty, qualifications, statistics, percentages, standards, policies, methodology, procedure, processes, etc. etc. Ech.
They yearn to measure everything. And to be honest, that trait is needed within a business. If you want to improve anything, you have to learn how to measure its current status. Otherwise, any improvement won’t have context.
But creative is tough to measure. Believe me, ad agencies have tried.
It’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly why a particular ad performed well and the other one bombed. Both received an abundance of attention. Both had smart, creative minds working hard on it. But one did better than the other.
It’s always a question for the ages.
The suits want to analyze everything to death. The creatives typically shrug and say, “We got lucky.” Then they put their heads back into the clouds and start dreaming about big ideas all over again.
One of my favorite parts of this article is this (emphasis mine):
Generalization is the grouping strategy that helps our brains respond quickly to situations similar to one we’re already familiar with. It’s what helps us take in information, combine it with our habits and past experiences, and then extract meaning from it. And it’s fundamental to our ability to communicate.
But, at the same time, it makes us prone to grammatical mistakes no matter how well we can write. Typos aren’t usually a result of stupidity or carelessness, Dr. Stafford explains. Instead, they often happen because trying to convey meaning in your writing is actually a very high-level task.
“As with all high-level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas),” writes Stockton. (Hubspot Blog)
Don’t Overmanage Your Copywriter
This point cannot be stressed enough: When a copywriter is working on a high-level brain function such as capturing the most positive, beneficial aspects of your business and putting it into words that will persuade new buyers to buy your products and services – you need to leave her alone.
And you need to leave her copy alone, for the most part.
Yes, proofread the copy. As the article says, our brains are wired in a way that makes us all susceptible to grammar slip-ups.
This means you need more than one pair of eyes reviewing your copy. It’s why copywriters have a revision process. It’s why companies creating content also have several people involved in a review process.
Because mistakes are made and we need each other’s help to correct them.
However, a glaring typo (such as “its” instead of “it’s”) is not the same as a writer’s style who chooses to pepper his writing with a lot of ellipses…or the passive voice…or colloquialisms.
If you meticulously correct each and every sentence according to The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook or any other standard, you need to realize something.
You can have everything perfectly written but also end up with one boring piece of content.
I’m not bashing proper grammar. Not at all. I definitely support well-written sentences.
But I also support sales.
Often, it’s the slightly ungrammatically-correct sentence or fragment that captures your audience’s attention and reels them in. It’s the colloquialisms that leave the “g” off a verb that ends up “swingin’ fer the fences” that hits a home run with the reader.
And it’s the lyrical way language can dance under the moon and mesmerize everyone who reads it – even if it is a grammatical train wreck.
I know it’s difficult not to continue to tweak your copywriter’s copy. It’s difficult not to pass it down to your loved ones including your niece who just got her English degree.
But you need to remember one thing. Writing sales copy is not the same as writing The Great American Novel. It has a purpose and that purpose is to sell your offerings to a buyer.
So your focus shouldn’t be whether your marketing copy is grammatically correct.
The right question to ask is if your copy is actually SELLING your product and services.
And for that, you need to trust that the copywriter knows what she’s doing. Ask her. Allow her to explain, for instance, why shorter incomplete sentences have been known to work better than longer ones.
Or why she used a particular odd phrase (that incidentally, was pulled from the comments on your Facebook page).
Sales copy is meant to do one thing: persuade your buyer to take action. Not prove that you know how to write a grammatically-perfect sentence.
About the author: Mary Rose Maguire
Copywriter. Content marketing specialist, B2B web copy, content marketing collateral, and email marketing. Tireless advocate for testing response. David Ogilvy is my invisible mentor, along with John Caples and Claude C. Hopkins. You can find me on Google+