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Spelling and Grammar... innit?

Neil's picture
Submitted by Neil on Sun, 17/07/2011 - 17:29

The excellent BBC News website technology section has a very interesting feature on the importance of accurate spelling on commercial websites.  Charles Duncombe, who runs the "Just Say Please" group of sites, reckons that the revenue from one of his sites doubled once a spelling mistake was corrected.  Spelling is one thing, and I have Drupal's excellent 'spell-check-as-you-type' turned on as I type this; but it seems to me that correct grammar is a bit more of a grey area.  Correct grammar may be necessary for legal documents, but, let's be honest, it's not especially readable, and my worst nightmare is to end up being ridiculed by the Plain English Campaign.

The one that seems to keep raising its head is the old "shall-will-will" business.  I was always taught that it's,

"I shall, you will, s/he will",

unless you want to be emphatic or give an order, when it becomes,

"I will, you shall, s/he shall".

The example I remember from school is,

"I shall drown and no-one will save me!"

compared with,

"I will drown and no-one shall save me!"

which means something altogether different.

ISO9000 auditors used to hammer on about this all the time; quality manuals and procedures were always written with stuff like,

"The guard shall be in place before the drive is engaged".

Now... Joe Bloggs is the best machine-setter in the business.  He has the hands of a surgeon and can total a darts score and chalk the subtraction on the board while I'm still fumbling with my calculator's 'on' switch.  But let's be honest at the risk of sounding snobby: the guy struggled to get GCSE English and reads 'The Sun'.  We really cannot present him with a work instruction or safe operating procedure written in that kind of style.  Stuff written like that would be more use shredded and used as hamster bedding.  No, I think we'll give him a photo of the device with one big arrow pointing to the guard saying, "This must be in place...", and another big arrow pointing to the drive saying, "...before this is engaged". 



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