If you’re as shocked as I was to learn that Weird Al is still making music, please hold your comments until after watching the entire video.
It’s unfortunate that writing and publishing on the web has gotten to the point that this video needed to be made, but it’s a real enough concern that mocking it has been sufficient to keep Weird Al relevant to pop culture. And as content marketers who write and publish on the web that makes this concern relevant to us, as well.
While some authors advise writers to be conversational and informal when writing for the web, others suggest that it’s better to use proper form and adhere to strict style guidelines. If the ultimate goal is to write something of value to the reader that causes them to engage in some way, then it seems that the audience you are writing for will ultimately dictate how much slang, abbreviations, and internet speak you will utilize.
Find balance between relating with your audience in an authentic way and boring them to death with drab, formalized writing by making mention of things they know and love, but doing so within the parameters of proper grammar, punctuation and spelling.
“Blurred Lines” was one of 2013’s biggest hits, so sonically borrowing from the song’s producer Pharrell was a good place for Weird Al to start with his latest parody. Peppered with pop culture references like Shiba The Doge, musical artist Prince, and television show Lost – Al was shrewd enough to keep his grammar-rant lighthearted, but also straightforward.
There’s an important message here for content creators and PR professionals that’s deeper than dangling participles and oxford commas.
The Unlearning of Grammar
The advent of text messaging, the explosion of meme popularity and the prominence of trolling-friendly, user-generated-content sites like Reddit and 4Chan are playing a major role in our population’s unlearning of basic grammar, punctuation and spelling.
It’s not just the internet’s fault, though. We’ve also become increasingly dependent upon technology to simplify our lives – reading and writing included. No red squiggly line under that word you just guessed how to spell? Then it must be right. No time to read a novel? Get it on disc and have someone read it to you. It’s gotten so out of hand that sometimes, even the technology that’s supposed to make our lives easier can have the reverse effect, and somehow that’s amusing.
How did it come to this? We learn fundamental grammar rules early on in life as school children. As we progress in our scholastic career (with the exception of English and Journalism majors) we’re held to high grammatical standards, for the most part, only when submitting final reports and semester papers. In today’s collegiate world, some classes are even conducted online, encouraging the use of discussion forums (with rampant abbreviations and shorthand) as a replacement for the verbal exchanges had in a traditional classroom setting.
When we graduate and enter the workforce (with the exception of client-facing roles) our written communication consists of emails, instant messaging and report documents- most of which are internal. Some organizations are lucky enough to have an editorial department employing those English and Journalism majors to proofread written work before it leaves the inside of the company, but many don’t have that luxury and continue to write without being made aware of their mistakes.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
The problem with today’s texting language, proliferating slang and internet speak arises when it’s mixed (intentionally or unintentionally) with professional writing. It’s further compounded by the fact that much of the population is confused about what “professional writing” means anymore. When brands, publishers, journalists, and media outlets are all seeking genuine engagement through their content and social media, where does one draw the line between intelligent, grammatically correct copy and relatable, modish posts?
For content creators and editors working on campaigns everywhere, it’s time to brush up on your AP Stylebooks – or at least have them within arm’s reach on your desk – and recognize that while it’s alright to be playful in your writing, the long-established rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation should always prevail.
Talk openly and frequently with your creative staff about your brand’s particular set of style guidelines. Complete brand identity exercises with your team and discuss the results to get a clear understanding of how your media copy should look, feel, and sound. Recognize that language is constantly evolving and what the rules say you aren’t supposed to do today, might change tomorrow.
Never forget who you’re writing for and what action you want them to take after reading it, but also remember that you’re representing a brand when you compose. Be authentic and relatable – hell, you can even be cool and trendy – but never at the cost of grammatical excellence.
And for Pete’s sake, learn the difference between its and it’s.