You may believe that the content of your message is what matters, and how you express it is not important. But you are judged by others based on how you use language.
Spelling, grammar and punctuation matter. Poor spelling makes you look sloppy. Use a spell checker, but also proofread to catch errors. Use a dictionary when you’re not sure about a
word. Many confuse homophones (words that sound alike). Have you ever written “their” when you meant “there”? Your spell checker won’t catch that.
Sometimes it helps to read what you’ve written out loud. You’ll spot where you need commas or semi-colons, run-on sentences which should be broken up, grammatical errors, and things that just don’t sound right.
Conversely, at times something written correctly will not ‘flow’ well or will sound clumsy. Especially when political correctness raises its head–such as the his/her/their nonsense.
For example, “A writer must choose his words carefully,” is correct. However, lots of writers are women who might object to using “his.” You could write, “A writer must choose his or her words carefully,” but it’s clumsy. “A writer must choose their words carefully,” is wrong (“their” is plural, “writer” is singular). The best way might be to say, “Writers must choose their words carefully.”
I’ll confess. I sometimes write in a way I know is not 100% grammatically correct. I start sentences with “And” and I end them with prepositions. The language is always in a state of flux, and there are times when simplicity and a conversational tone are more important than being “correct.”
If a lot of this sounds like Greek to you, don’t trust a grammar checker to catch mistakes. If you don’t already have a solid grasp of the rules, the grammar checker will create more problems
than it solves. So, where can you get help? Many universities have grammar hotlines you can call to ask your questions about who and whom, me and I, prepositions, his/her/their, and lots more. One good website is at: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/. I also run grammar tips on my mystery shopper blog.
For important documents, such as brochures, books or booklets, sales letters, web sites, etc., get someone else to edit. Hire a professional editor, or at least get someone with a good command of the language to review it for you.
Be aware of regional and national differences in spelling, punctuation and usage. For example, American and British English are very different. If you are an American writing for a British market, have someone familiar with British spelling and grammar review your work.
Pay attention to the quality of your writing, and remember that many others are paying attention to the quality of your writing.