Legitimacy amid the accessibility of voice concept

26 Feb

Which of the following sentences is correct?

  • Every user must provide their contact information in order to comment.
  • Every user must provide his or her contact information in order to comment.

Both? Nope. You thought it was a trick question, but it wasn’t. Ha! Nice try.

The second sentence is correct because the word “every” is single, just like “his” or “her.” “Their” is plural. You know this, I’m sure, but when you construct a sentence, your knowledge doesn’t always translate. Especially when the web world – and beyond – so blatantly and regularly tramples on English rules. (And especially because you personally hate it when people use “his or her” instead of “their.” But we can find ways around that – being grammatically incorrect isn’t one of them, though.)

I can hear you asking, “Seriously, who cares? If I offer a perfect business solution, I doubt a typo will keep someone from buying my product.”

You’re probably right. But I’m talking about one thing: Your legitimacy. If you don’t take the time to spell something correctly, what tells the consumer that you’ll take the time to make sure your product is flawless?

One and a half million new college graduates jump into the “real world” each year. Business as a major leads the pack; however, according to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the number of communications and journalism degrees conferred has increased by more than 20 percent from 1999-2005. You could say this is relatively minor compared to the trend of a 53 percent increase in computer science and technical degrees during the internet boom from 1994-2000, which was then followed by 10 percent drop from 2000-2005.

But, a trend I find particularly fascinating about writing and the rise of the web is that 20,000 more English degrees are conferred today that twenty years ago – when the web was just an infant being parented by the juggernauts of traditional print media.

So you might argue, “Well, the number of students experiencing post-secondary education has risen likewise.” And you’d be right. But I’d posit that it’s mostly relative, and what we’re really seeing is a surge in what I’m calling The Accessibility of Voice: a concept that the web offers anyone.

Here’s the gist: It’s attractive and tangible, and it can be the sole difference between credibility and crap. Because the web lets anyone be an authority with the correct tone and voice, you have to work extra hard to establish yourself as a leader.

So, even if you think the majority of people won’t punish you for a typo or a grammatical error, you cannot forget the minority of users who actually paid attention to Mrs. Rider back in third grade. Crazy, I know. But still, they exist, and they are among the people you’re trying to engage. And they can’t be engaged when the accessibility of voice concept already pollutes the web to the point that they can’t distinguish your legitimacy.

Go the extra mile to ensure your voice is credible and, well, correct in the eyes of these English freaks. It’s just one way to step beyond the din of the masses.

Readers will only reward you for paying attention to the details.


One Response to “Legitimacy amid the accessibility of voice concept”


  1. Writing for the Web: About Us « Word Nerd - March 24, 2008

    […] engaging copy can separate one site from another. Assume only more of the same. (What? It’s a legitimate […]

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