Dan's Blog

February 8, 2010

Grammatical errors on web sites

Filed under: education,publishing — ddswanson01 @ 3:35 pm

I worked for an Educational Publisher for years, and would enjoy doing so again; I like contributing to books, eBooks and helping people learn. This morning something caused me to recall an incident that happened some time ago, and it sounded to me like a good topic to write about.

We used to have self-tests on our textbook web sites, with True/False, Multiple Choice, or Short Answer questions that were automatically graded. These were for review purposes only, since clever students could easily take them over and over again until the had all the right answers, and they were one of the most used features on the sites. If one of these stopped working, we could easily get hundreds of support calls before we got it fixed.

One day, one of the Tier 1 agents forwarded an angry student email to me. We had a chemistry test with fill in the blank including some definitions that looked something like this:

“__________ is the combination of a substance with oxygen.”

The proper answer to this is “Oxidation”. This student had entered “oxidation” and it was marked wrong. The student called Tech Support to complain; when the support agent tried to explain, the student used offensive language and then hung up, and then wrote an email. The email was offensive and contained obscene language; you would have thought our Web site had caused this student to fail the course. Remember, this test can be taken multiple times until you get all the questions right, if that’s what you want.  It would have required much less energy to do it over than it did to write an email.

The reason for the complaint? We were enforcing the rules of English grammar on a CHEMISTRY test. How simply terrible and impudent of us! How dare we?

As a representative of an educational publisher, I always felt it was our duty and obligation to get things right on our Web sites. To me, this includes using proper grammar and proper spelling, regardless of the discipline involved.  If for no other reason that just to set a good example. It doesn’t matter that we could easily have programmed this test to accept ‘oxidation’ as well as ‘Oxidation’. I know this seems picayune to some people, but it is important to me.

Your website is marketing collateral, often the first and sometimes the only marketing collateral your customer will see. When the web site is the source of a customer’s first impression, I want my Web site to say ‘The employees of this company are erudite and pay attention to detail, and believe that education is a holistic process. They believe that your English skills are important in everything you do in life.’

If I see a Web site that is poorly written, full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, I tend to think that whoever built and/or owns that site is careless and doesn’t really care about the impression the site gives to potential customers.  Personally,  I don’t really want to deal with companies like that. My grammar isn’t perfect, but I think it’s pretty darn good.  If I see an educational site with that kind of error, I usually send an email to the Webmaster, because I hope other people in the Education industry have a similar attitude. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m disappointed. It’s still worth doing.

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