Writing is everywhere – boxes, bottles, billboards, magazines, newspapers, flyers, email, and websites- to name a few places. There’s one commonality between these disparate forms of writing: they use language. How each form uses language differs greatly and each has different expectations from the reader’s point of view.
Writing in newspapers and magazines is informative, educational, and opinionated depending on which section of the paper, or what kind of magazine, you’re reading. We, as readers, expect newspapers and magazines to have high editorial standards and be written clearly. OK, you got me there. I don’t think Us or People consider their editorial standards much, but I digress. Generally, we read these materials at leisure – over coffee in the morning, waiting in a doctor’s office, or riding on public transit.
From other printed ephemera (boxes, bottles, billboards, flyers, etc.) we decidedly expect less. The copy used on them is primarily for persuading – “Buy XYZ because it’s chock full of vitamins and minerals!” (Gee, I didn’t know foot powder needed vitamins and minerals.) The copy on these sources is written for accessibility and generally has a friendlier approach. These materials are typically read in passing – walking down grocery aisles, driving down freeways, grabbing the flyer off the windshield in the parking lot before tossing it in the back seat.
Websites, while including all genres of printed material, are read differently. We go to a website for information, to answer a question, to complete a task, and in doing so we expect to access that information or perform that task quickly and easily. Anything that gets in the way of our purpose is, at best, annoying, if not downright frustrating.
Across all these disparate forms of writing is an overarching expectation – good grammar. Reading something that’s well written imparts a sense of confidence in the information. If the writer misuses their, they’re, and there can we really trust him to know what he’s talking about? Likewise, if the writer’s writing lazily and using netspeak are you going to respect his opinion or knowledge?
In exploring writing, I came across a blog post on how to write a good first message for an online dating service. The number one rule was “Be Literate.” Messages that used netspeak, had gross misspellings, or bad grammar (or all three!) didn’t get a a response. I can’t agree more. Well written messages, articles, etc. give confidence to the information and, more importantly, eschew obfuscation. (One of my favorite phrases, because it doesn’t follow it’s advice.)