Maybe it has to do with the “back to school” time of year, but, over the past few weeks, I’ve been preoccupied with grammar. While most of us, as creatives, don’t consider ourselves writers, writing is a large part of what we do. From presenting our ideas, to developing copy that supports and enhances our visual solutions, to creating memorable taglines for products and packaging, the level of responsibility we have for writing varies widely. But, in every case, good grammar is critical.
A dangling modifier here, a typo there, a misspelled word every now and then can mean the difference between work that resonates with clients and work that seems unprofessionally produced. Bad grammar can also get in the way of how well you communicate in proposals and bids--concise and precise information can help prevent misinterpretation. And, of course, bad copy means changes and edits and, invariably, cost. With budget and staff cuts, creative consolidation is more and more common. Smaller firms and in-house teams often don’t have professional copy writers available, so, by default, designers are responsible for the visual components of a project and also for editing and proofreading. Understanding the basics of punctuation, spelling, tense and style can be an important skill set to develop. While this might feel like a burden, you might be surprised to find that there’s a real opportunity for creative freedom. Instead of working your design around existing copy, you can edit the content so copy and design work together as a whole unit. Even when you’re lucky enough to have access to a professional copy writer, having a sense of what the audience will read—as well as see—will make you not only a better designer overall but also a more valuable part of the creative team. Your insight and perspective can help your client step back from what might be “marketing-speak” and rethink the message. By engaging with the copy, and understanding how it will sound and feel to the audience, your design solutions will have greater impact and deliver stronger results. Here are some suggestions for raising the bar on your grammar skills: 1. Be on the lookout for the obvious red flags—they’re/their/there; your/you’re; its/it’s; too/two/to; lose/loose. When using any of those words, make sure you are selecting the right one for the job. 2. Call on a second set of eyes. Having another person review your writing can be useful. How often have we read and re-read copy, only to put something forward with glaring mistakes. A fresh perspective can alleviate that pain. 3. When proof reading, read the copy backwards. Obvious typos stand out better when not read in context and when your brain doesn’t “fix” errors. 4. Think about how you are perceived. In a culture where online communication is the norm, all business communication should be created with a level of professionalism. While an email might be casual and not intended for the CEO, anything can be forwarded to anyone. Your writing reflects your professional image. 5. Use readily available resources—spelling, grammar check and thesaurus features are the first line of defense. But, be aware that even though spell check might identify incorrectly spelled words that doesn’t mean they are right words. 6. Use deeper resources, many of which are available online. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style can be referenced here: http://www.bartleby.com/141/. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is available online and lists rules related to punctuation and grammar, organized by subject. http://www.grammarbook.com/english_rules.asp. The Grammar Girl blog posts tips on a variety of grammar topics. Podcast version of their articles are also available. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl. You’re a great designer, and maybe even a good writer, but you’re also a human being and you make mistakes. I’ve often looked back on some of my writing with varying responses ranging from confidence to horror. What a bad word choice! I can see how that sentence was misleading and misconstrued. That semi-colon changed the meaning of my content. The lesson here? Learn from your mistakes. Here’s a humorous look at typos in the paper and printing world. A gentle reminder that as you advance in your career, you’ll find that good grammar will help you communicate more effectively with your clients, with your audience and with your staff. And, isn’t effective communication what good design is all about? Does that make sense?
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