GrammarPhile Blog

The $189 Million Missing Math Symbol

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jul 11, 2024 8:00:00 AM

And other expensive typos

People like to minimize typos, especially in today’s world of casual communication and 1,000-mile-an-hour news updates. It’s “just a comma.” Who cares if it’s “would of” or “would’ve”? Do we really need to know the difference between “there,” “they’re,” and “their?

Tell that to the people who wrote these political ads. Or to NASA’s bank account, about 60 years ago.

July 22, 1962, was going to be an expensive day for NASA, no matter what happened. It was launch day for Mariner I, the first of two spacecraft designed to travel to Venus for some long-distance scientific flirting (e.g., “That’s a good-looking solar wind you’ve got going on, baby. Mind if I measure it?”).

Everything was going according to plan. Every preparation had been made. Everything checked and rechecked. The countdown began.

3, 2, 1, liftoff (probably sounding like “pewwwww” or “whoosh” or 10,000 toilets flushing simultaneously).

Moments later, the rocket veered off course. After failing to reestablish control, NASA had no choice but to destroy it.

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Topics: typos, typographic errors

"We the People" Love Word Quizzes

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jul 3, 2024 8:00:00 AM

It’s a good week to celebrate our independence – make that Independence with a capital I. The Declaration of Independence is dated July 4, 1776, but was signed in August of that year by brave patriots who risked their property, possessions and their very lives to start a new nation. Our words today deal with freedom, independence (or lack of it) and rights. Never forget that freedom was and is not free. Long live America!

Select your answer below for each question. When done, you'll see your score and the correct answers.

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Topics: word quiz, vocabulary quiz

How to Fix the 10 Biggest Problems with Your B2B Marketing Content

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jun 6, 2024 9:00:00 AM

We don’t believe in simply whining about problems. We’d rather be part of the solution. To that aim, here’s the follow-up to our last post on The 10 Biggest Problems with Most B2B Marketing Content.

If you find your B2B marketing content lackluster, ineffective, or willy-nilly to the detriment of your sales, your marketing team’s motivation, and your sanity, check out our suggestions for fixing the 10 most-common problems we’ve observed in B2B marketing content.

How to Fix the 10 Biggest Problems with Your B2B Marketing Content

1. Get and give clarity. Answer the five “W” questions (who, what, when, where, and why) in as basic terms as possible, internally. Apply those answers to all your customer-facing messaging, with an emphasis on the most succinct answers to the following three questions:
  • What is our product/service/offer?
  • Who does it help? (Who are you trying to talk to? Who is your ideal customer?)
  • Why does it matter? (If potential customers don’t identify with your purpose, benefits, values, differentiators, etc., then you’ll be hard put to make them loyal.)

2. Set aside your ego and fear of not being taken seriously. Being personable and an expert aren’t mutually exclusive. If you take stock of major pitfalls of the digital age, they generally revolve around a lack of humanity and healthy relationships, including between businesses and their clients. The most feared people may be monolithic enigmas, but the most loved people (and companies and brands) are the ones who treat others well while allowing themselves to be truly known.

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Topics: b2b writing help, b2b marketing content

The 10 Biggest Problems with Most B2B Marketing Content

Posted by Sara Richmond   May 23, 2024 11:00:00 AM

Aka The Lime-Green Lycra Bodysuit

What would you do if your best friend bought a lime-green Lycra bodysuit to wear to a professional awards ceremony sure to be publicized on television?

After you briefly considered dousing the bodysuit in gasoline and lighting it on fire (it’d be hard to sell that as an “accident”), you’d shoot straight with them:

“This is a bad decision. The bodysuit is hideous. It would make the most attractive person on Earth look like a baked bean.”

And you’d be a good friend for doing so.

Now it’s our turn. Except the publicized awards ceremony is B2B content marketing. And the lime-green Lycra body suit is the 10 ways most companies inadvertently alienate everyone who comes across their marketing content.

Deep breath. Here we go.

The 10 Biggest Problems with Most B2B Marketing Content

  1. It’s unclear. I’ve often gone to a B2B website and thought, “What do these people actually DO?” If people don’t understand what you do, the chances of them becoming a client immediately wither.
  2. It’s rife with jargon and self-importance. Everyone is “reinventing” or “unleashing” or “transforming” something. If it’s a law firm, they practice “at the intersection” of three or four specialties. Even if you were to simplify the message, you’d be left with meaningless fluff. The copy sings “Me, me, me!” over and over, a little like a 3-year-old. And we all know how self-absorbed those little stinkers are, no matter how cute.
  3. It’s boring. This is partly because the people approving the content lack the bravery to sound and be different. Guess who wants to read 12,087 iterations of the same thing? Nobody. Not even your mama when you’re the one who wrote it.
  4. It’s poorly structured. It doesn’t consider our natural scanning tendencies (e.g., the Z pattern). There are poor or absent transitions from one thought or section to the next. There’s no intuitive narrative. It’s like the “junk” drawer in your kitchen. Full of potentially valuable stuff that’s entangled, hidden, or mixed together.
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Topics: b2b marketing content

Editing AI-Generated Text

Posted by Sara Richmond   May 9, 2024 9:45:00 AM

There’s a common joke among writers: “It’s easier to start over than to copyedit.”

Nobody laughs at the joke. They mostly just nod their heads, as if to say, “It’s funny cause it’s true.” Copyediting poor writing is a little like trying to clean a hoarded house without removing the hoard beforehand.

The interesting bit about that joke is that it came about in response to human writing, and not even necessarily poor writing. But it applies to AI-generated copy as well.

As a team of writers, proofreaders, editors, copywriters, and copyeditors who’ve seen the good, the bad, and the dreadful across nearly every industry, organization size, and type of content imaginable, we feel compelled to reveal a few downsides.

The Downsides of AI-Generated Text

We understand the impetus for using AI-generated copy. It’s fast; it’s cheap; it’s easy. It doesn’t talk back.

But these aren’t hypothetical downsides. They’re not reactive, “We’re afraid for our jobs” types. They’re not projected insecurity (i.e., “A machine can write better than moi? Better blow it to pieces.”). These are downsides we’ve already encountered, many times.

For example, consider a proposal one of our beloved clients recently submitted. We are intimately familiar with their voice, their products, their style guide, their content types, and their business model. It was immediately clear that the copy was AI-generated. It was also clear that to move it from what ranged between awkward and nonsensical to succinct and logical, we couldn’t just proofread it. We had to copyedit it…heavily.

Upon review, we made an estimated 5 times as many necessary edits as normal for jobs of the same length from this client. Oof.

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Topics: artificial intelligence, AI

10 of the Most Embarrassing Political Content Errors

Posted by Sara Richmond   Apr 25, 2024 10:00:00 AM

Aka Becoming Famous for “Potatoe”*

Imagine your name is Phil. To make this theoretical scenario more believable, let’s give you a last name: Jamieson.

Phil Jamieson. I just pulled that out of thin air.

I want you to be able to picture yourself clearly, so I’ll say you’re 6'8" and you have a dashing head of hair. You’re also running for Congress, Phil. You need votes, lots of them.

You hire a brilliant political campaign manager with years of experience. She knows all the slick moves, all the ways to undercut your opponents, every smart strategy behind plowing your way to the top.

Your campaign manager picks a brilliant theme song (Born in the U.S.A.) and outlines a content production plan, including ads for every medium, compelling speeches, and made-in-Hallmark photo ops. She’s got the 411 on every development in your opponents’ campaigns before they happen. She’s a regular networking powerhouse. She’s even got the dirt—the sleezy shenanigans the other side doesn’t want anybody to know about—in her back pocket. In other words, Phil, you’re a shoo-in.

And then it all falls apart.

Because your ads are full of snafus. They’re rife with redundancies. They’re torn asunder by typos.

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When You Can’t See the Trees Because You Planted a Forest

Posted by Sara Richmond   Apr 11, 2024 12:00:00 PM

I used to proofread my text messages. I’d use proper punctuation, fix all autocorrect atrocities, and even insert paragraph breaks.

Those days are long past.

Now, some of my friends and closest family members get texts along the lines of “Need graspy straws. Blogget can’t find tham. Good nigbt.” with a follow-up text of “Interpret as needed. ‘Talk to text’ is a dum-dum.’” (I’ve converted the swear words for the sake of propriety.)

Why do I tell text recipients to “ignore typos” almost as often as I create a typo? Because I text a lot more often. I write a lot more often. My fingers and mouth are steady streams of words.

And when you write a lot of words—especially when you have to do so quickly—errors are inevitable.

But I have a dirty little confession (one that’s in your dingy back pocket too if you’d let anybody see it): While volume and speed are rife with error-prone possibilities, the truth is that proofing your own writing is like trying to pinpoint your character flaws while gossiping about your trainwreck of a neighbor.

It don’t work good.

When you plant a whole forest, picking your way through the trees produces blindness—to the roots, the diseases, the limbs akimbo—to all the details. And the more times you pick through those woods, the hazier the view.

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Topics: proofreading, proofreading quality

8 Writing Errors That Can Ruin Your Law Firm’s Credibility

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Mar 28, 2024 8:01:00 AM

The legal field rests upon evidence and precedence. We respect that, because so do we.

We’ve proofread and copyedited (easily) tens of thousands of legal documents in the past 20+ years. Often dozens of legal and legal marketing documents in a single day:

Website copy, newsletters, press releases, pleadings, motions, briefs, blog posts, practice descriptions, emails, event/webinar invitations, internal communications, special reports, pitch decks/collateral, slide presentations, correspondence, miscellaneous court filings, RFP responses, and more.

The unfortunate verdict is in: Legal marketing teams and lawyers/attorneys, even at (especially at?) the largest of firms, commit a lot of writing errors.

The sheer volume of daily documentation flowing through the typical law firm is staggering. Combine that volume with the perpetual race against the clock that defines many law firm environments and it’s easy to see why writing quality and proofreading bandwidth suffer.

Our most recent survey of completed legal proofreading jobs revealed an average of 118 errors per document, ranging from 39 to 191 errors. (Have mercy, Your Honor.)

While typos aren’t capital offenses, they are an easy but preventable way to ruin your credibility, embarrass your firm, drive away prospective clients, annoy a judge, and damage or even destroy a case (here are nine such examples).

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Topics: legal proofreading, proofreading for legal documents

Their, There, and They're: The Difference

Posted by Sara Richmond   Mar 6, 2024 11:11:18 AM

If you’ve wondered whether someone created these often-confused words just to torture English-speaking people, you’re not alone.

“Their,” “there,” and “they’re” are:

  • Pronounced the same.
  • Spelled similarly (the first three letters are identical).
  • Confused by Spell Check—four times as I wrote this blog post, for example.
  • Used incorrectly in the wild all the time. (If you read a mistake often enough, or only ever hear/see a grammar mistake, you may just think it’s correct. This happened to me while growing up with home vs. hone, towards vs. toward, and chomping vs. champing.)

To sum up: We’re screwed.

I’m kidding. Let’s take about three minutes to rewire your brain so you never struggle with using “their,” “there,” and “they’re” correctly again.

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Topics: they're, their, there

Did You Ace Our Spelling Quiz?

Posted by Sara Richmond   Feb 15, 2024 9:15:00 AM


(Most People Couldn’t)

If you took our most recent spelling quiz and were disappointed with your score or confused by the answers, this post is for you.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of the right answers, the wrong answers, and definitions/examples of both.


A Breakdown of the Spelling Quiz That Tripped Up a Bunch of Smart Professionals

  1. Anchors away/aweigh, my boys!

WRONG – away: The captain isn’t telling sailors to put the anchor in their pocket.

✔️RIGHT – aweigh: To “weigh anchor” means to lift an anchor in preparation for sailing (and in doing so, you find out how much the anchor weighs, hence the saying). In other words, “Let’s go!”

  1. She has a flair/flare for impressing juries.

WRONG – flare: That thing you light when your ship is headed to Davey Jones’ locker or your car is disabled. Please don’t use them in court.

              ✔️  RIGHT – flair: A unique talent or style.

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Topics: word quiz, vocabulary quiz

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