21. March 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

GRAM, the OSP editorial code. Podcast Ep 14

How we create credible communication through one of OSP's favorite Editing Codes: GRAM.


In our 14th episode, our host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Chris Fenwick, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. “jam” McGuire. We discuss how we use the Editing Code GRAM to create error-free communication that presents you as the expert you are.

Welcome to the Open Strategy Partners podcast, “Communicate, Connect, Grow!” At Open Strategy Partners, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.

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Get your grammar right and tight — the GRAM Editing Code

In our process, the GRAM Editing Code falls in the Word Choice process phase, the Grammar and Punctuation Category, and the OSP Clarity Pillar. Our documentation entry is straightforward: "GRAM — Check for grammar errors.

Sounds simple, right? But correct grammar can be more nuanced than it sounds. Equally, it’s critical for a sound foundation for the rest of your piece. As they say, the devil is in the details, and poor grammar is the surest and quickest way to lose your reader.

In OSP’s editing flow, there’s a specific time and place to review grammar. After the Positivity Pass, we tackle scope, narrative structure, flow and readability, style and phrasing, and finally, GRAM’s home, word choice. 

With grammar-checking tools automatically available in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and external ones like Grammarly, fixating on grammar might seem redundant. However, as we’ve learned with AI tools like ChatGPT, even the most intelligent tools aren’t always correct. Moreover, sometimes you need an expert (human) eye for a specific subject matter. Finally, a comprehensive grasp of grammar will clear your mind of doubts, speed up your work, and imbue your writing with these essential qualities: 

Credibility

We have a code for GRAM because of how important it is. Communications Consultant Felicity Brand observes, “You lose all your credibility as an author if you have grammatical errors in your writing.” As professional writers, this loss of authority can transfer not only to us, but to others. Jeffrey A. “jam” McGuire, creator of the Editing Codes, says, “Our clients will also lose credibility if we make stupid mistakes on their behalf.”

Trust

OSP’s style of writing prioritizes trust between reader and writer. Simple grammar mistakes, misusing technology or business terms, or addressing the target audience in ways that turn them off can all erode this trust. “Grammar is all about not being flogged,” as Jam humorously puts it. 

High standards 

Grammar mistakes don’t help anyone’s writing. But they reflect particularly poorly on professional writers. This is our job, after all! “Your language has to show that you have high standards,” says Chris Fenwick, one of our Communications Consultants at OSP. “As a professional, you don’t want to make a bad impression.”

Examples

GRAM: The color of the analogue button is too bright. Let’s tone it down in the online version.

++ GRAM: The color of the analog button is too bright. Let’s tone it down in the online version.

GRAM: Wix could be the critical component of your e-commerce toolkit is missing. 

++ GRAM: Wix could be the critical component your e-commerce toolkit is missing.

Using GRAM

As an editor

As an editor, Felicity likes to put her ‘reader advocate hat’ on. “If I trip over something, every other reader coming behind me will also trip over that,” she says. Reader advocacy via GRAM is crucial with an international client base like ours, where English is often a second language. GRAM can be a tool for greater understanding and clarity in these situations.

Chris compares his ‘editor sense’ to an alarm. “There are different degrees of loudness in the alarm that’s ringing, but it’s always the same alarm. Some things are flagrantly, obviously wrong, and others are more subtly wrong.” Jam points out how some of these grammatical gray areas can lead to an entertaining and informative back-and-forth between writers and editors. “There are classic conflicts, like how to use ‘which’ and ‘that’ in UK vs. American English. The less cut-and-dry, behind-the-scenes disputes can be quite fun sometimes.”

As a writer

It may sound overblown, but poor grammar doesn’t just signal “poor grammar” to a reader. It can undermine a writer’s entire piece. “A reader may begin to question your logic, accuracy, and evidence,” says Felicity. As a writer, you really do not want this to happen. 

With GRAM, it’s important to remember you have choices. As Felicity points out, “There is no ‘one true way.’” You can follow your in-house style guide, our writing guide, or one of the major ones like Microsoft, Apple, or Google. Just keep it consistent throughout the piece.

Writing and editing as a team, one of our strengths at OSP, contributes to grammar consistency. “When you’re reading your own work, you’re reading what you wanted to write, what you imagined you wrote — not necessarily what your fingers did,” says Jam. Chris agrees wholeheartedly. “As a writer, I’ve read my piece so many times already. So I can accidentally skip the crucial spot, and my brain fills it in with what the correct alternative should be…but not necessarily is,” he says. A team approach also helps you understand your grammar options: more perspectives mean more ideas to pick from.

As a reader

Writers have a specific path for their readers to follow when they create a piece. Proper grammar helps propel readers along that path smoothly, purposefully, and distraction-free. “You’re writing something because you’re trying to convey information. You’re trying to persuade, convert, or otherwise get people to do an action,” says Felicity. “If you have grammatical errors, it undermines your message. Suddenly, your reader is lost, and ultimately, they won’t do what you want them to do.”

More than getting lost, Chris points out that poor grammar can flip a reader’s focus in an unfortunate way. “I think readers have an ‘alarm bell’ too. They pick it up if something is a bit off,” says Chris. “Then they might get preoccupied proofreading your text rather than paying attention to the content.”

Poor grammar can also fray and pick at the threads of your writing’s intention. “There’s always a purpose behind our writing. Ours is to build trust and credibility so that these conversions can happen. Building that trust is hard if we distract readers with bad form,” notes Jam.

Creating intentional communication takes practice — join us!

Use the GRAM Editing Code to “Get it right and make it clean,” as Jam says. “At OSP, we really try to demonstrate that we care about the details at every level.”

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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Episode Transcript

From the robot transcription mines, we bring you at least some words from our episode in an order that might or might not reflect our intentions. 

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate connect, grow the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about avoiding grammatical errors in your writing with our editing code Graham. If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking, or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode, and we're talking about checking your grammar with our editorial code Graham.

Speaker 1  1:02  
The gram editing code falls into the word choice phase of the editing process. And it's about final checks for polishing your writing. The documentation for this code is short and simple. It says check for grammar errors.

Felicity Brand  1:18  
Hi, my name is Felicity brands. I work as a communications consultant at open strategy partners.

Chris Fenwick  1:24  
Hi, I'm Chris Fenwick. I'm a Communications Consultant at OSP. Which basically means that I handle copywriting and editing. It's my main activities.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  1:35  
Hi, I'm Jeffrey McGuire. Most people call me Jim. I co founded OSP. And this crazy idea of the editing codes was not really my idea, but it was someone else's idea about how to unpick the crazy tornado going on in my brain when I edit documents.

Christine Beuhler  1:53  
I'm Christine Bueller, and I'm a Communications Consultant at OSP. Which means I work on writing, editing and creating blog posts, landing pages, all sorts of writing, and marketing materials for our clients. So

Felicity Brand  2:13  
Graham is about checking for grammar errors, grammar errors are bad, and easily avoidable. incorrect grammar is the quickest and easiest way to lose your reader. So Graham is about using correct grammar in your writing. It feels like an obvious writing principle, like an obvious editing code to have. But it's so important. That's why we have a code for it, you lose all your credibility as an author if if you have grammatical errors in your writing. So that's why we have the code for it. And we always edit for grammar.

Chris Fenwick  2:45  
It's a very, very simple one is, are there grammatical errors in the text or not?

Jeffrey A. McGuire  2:51  
So gra m is our code. To remind ourselves to check grammar and punctuation. We edit in four phases at open strategy partners, or five really we look at we do a positivity pass, where we say, hey, this and this and this was great. And we mark it so that whoever wrote the last version, the first draft, for example, knows that that's good work. And that reinforces that great behavior. As an editor, marking something as great also reminds me not to mess with it in my in my subsequent editing. So anyway, positivity pass, then we do the biggest scope, which is like, does this piece cover everything it should cover, and how's the narrative structure, then we look at flow and readability. Then we look at style and phrasing. And the gram code comes in the last phase, which we call word choice, which is the smallest details and grammar is a reminder, to write write, whether you use tools, whether you use a sharp eye, whether you use experience, please get it right, make it clean, because honestly, our clients will lose credibility if we make stupid mistakes on their behalf. So, so we we really try to care at every level of detail. That's

Chris Fenwick  4:13  
like the crucial point about writing with correct grammar. I mean, you know, people will often try to argue with you and just say I doesn't really matter and this sort of thing, but actually it does. And the reason it matters is rhetorical. If you're using the language in a way that is obviously incorrect. It makes a bad impression on people. And especially in a kind of professional context like this and business marketing. Of course, your language has to be has to show that you show that you have high standards. I

Jeffrey A. McGuire  4:48  
completely agree and we work essentially exclusively in the b2b technology communication marketing area, and it's a long game content is a long game. In any way content, marketing, inbound marketing, all these things that we touch on and one of our goals is to build trust between the client and the reader. So between ourselves and whoever is consuming this. And if we get a technology to detail wrong, that's a terrible sign if we choose the wrong sort of terms to address people with, if we use business words, instead of technology words for developer peace, for example, that makes it much more difficult for people to trust us or trust our client in effect, and the same goes for sloppy work. So grammar is all about not being flogged.

Christine Beuhler  5:33  
gram is a pretty simple editing code. It just means check for grammar errors, look at your grammar, make sure it's correct.

Speaker 1  5:46  
Now we're going to look at how this code is used in your typical workday as an editor.

Felicity Brand  5:51  
Yeah, look, it's really interesting because most word processing programs today have inbuilt spelling and grammar checks. Microsoft Word Google Docs, you can now also go one step further and use online tools like Grammarly. OSP uses Grammarly. There's also the Hemingway app, they'll help you finesse your writing. And they'll look for passive constructions and obvious spelling mistakes. But even with the existence of all these tools, we still have this editing code for Graham, when I'm editing, I think my most frequent use of this code is for missing words, sentences that look whole, but maybe missing a key word, usually a conjunction that joins clauses, and but therefore, and usually only the author knows what they meant. So when I'm editing, you know, sometimes I do have domain knowledge of what the piece is about. And I can take a guess, at missing word or fixing grammar. I mean, just yesterday, I was editing something where I wasn't that familiar with the technology. And yeah, I just I just left a comment for the author. And for grant, I think there's a word missing, I've made a suggestion. But you know, please check to see if I have indeed resolve that issue. And so that's just going to be like a telegraph for the author to relook at that and decide how to finish that because as an editor, you know, I've got my reader advocate hat on, if I trip over something, every other reader coming behind me is also going to trip over that. So it is something to fix. Additionally, at OSP. We work with friends and clients from all over the world for many of whom English is not their native language. So gram does get used in those instances as well. Usually just perhaps, if I'm suggesting changes, I'll, I'll tell them it's because of this gram editing code.

Chris Fenwick  7:39  
Oh, well, I can't really list every possible grammatical mistake in the language. I mean, there is a kind of syntactical paradigm of what a well formed sentences in English. And if the writer violates that, then a little alarm bell goes off in your head, there are some slightly more subtle things that some people might not be aware of like whether you can use a relative pronoun that with inanimate things like the man that I saw yesterday, rather than a man who or whom I saw yesterday, there are these slightly more subtle things like that. Like, again, I'm stuck on that. But like using that after a that is a relative pronoun, and after a comma is usually not something you would do, because that is usually a restrictive pronoun in the way that binds to the antecedent. So putting a comma and doesn't make sense you would you if you're using a comma you're using, which I mean, you can go down all of the these rabbit holes, I think there's there's some things that are just like, flagrantly obviously wrong. And then there are other things that are maybe slightly more subtly wrong. There's different degrees of loudness in the alarm that goes off, but it's always the same alarm is ringing,

Jeffrey A. McGuire  8:51  
you have some you have some some of the classic conflicts, the perception of how to use which and that between UK and American English is is basically reversed, despite which being the relative after the comment, grammatically speaking. And so I don't know, it also leads to fun behind the scenes dispute sometimes. For me, it's also kind of a blended, blended part of the checking for are there too many pronouns here? Have I lost? Is somebody going to be able to easily track where I started and where I'm going to it falls into that? That kind of a, is this really making sense to me in in my, in my way of approaching this.

Christine Beuhler  9:34  
The gram editing code is really helpful, particularly for us at open strategy partners because we do have both team members and clients from all over the world. The grammar rules can sometimes differ depending on where you are. So starting at OSP we have our own grammar guide where we We all agree on certain things like when to use hyphens, you know, using American spelling instead of English spelling. And so yeah, sometimes, you know, I'll catch that. Maybe when I'm going through a piece, maybe favorite is spelled with a U or something, it's just a good reminder, and it keeps us all on the same page.

Carl Richards  10:26  
Let's explore how you can approach this code as a writer, as a

Felicity Brand  10:30  
writer. And as a native English speaker. I generally don't think about my grammar when I'm writing, but nobody's perfect. There are some times when I stumble or when I'm just a really, maybe you're having an off day, or you just can't you get into your brain that something doesn't sound right. You can flag that for your editor, you know, have I just write you know, it shouldn't be a different way around, because our editing writing process is a conversation. And then the other thing I would just say about writing for grammar is there are choices, you know, there is not one true way all the time. So you do have choices with your grammar, follow your in house style guide. Or if you don't have one, that OSP writing guide, or one of the major style guides, Microsoft Apple Google style guide, they will also have grammar, decisions that you can follow. Working as a writer, when I read, of course, I'm going to pay attention to how well a piece is written. I guess that's like shoe makers, noticing people's shoes first. So when I'm reading, and if I come across a typo or a grammatical error, I will immediately judge that piece, you know, everything kind of shifts down a notch. And I just think, should I continue? I call into question everything about that piece. So and I don't know if I'm judging too harshly, but this is my view. So incorrect grammar will immediately undermine your whole piece. It calls into question your integrity as an author. It doesn't matter if you've written a masterpiece. If you have typos or grammar mistakes, the reader will assume you're lazy. Maybe they'll question your logic, your accuracy, your evidence. So you're no longer an authority, and you lose the reader's attention and their respect. That's what I feel. It may be too harsh. But it really is just so important. If you're in the business of writing, it's so important to get your writing, right. Even if you're not in the business of writing, if you are a dev and your tech lead has just asked you to write a post for the company blog, you just really want to make sure your grammar is correct.

Chris Fenwick  12:52  
Not really explicitly. I mean, I think I've internalized the grammar of English to such an extent now, both writing and doing proofreading, that it's not something that's like explicitly at the forefront of my mind, I think more it's something that you're thinking about when you're an editor, like you're reading a thing with a different kind of eye, you're reading it with an eye for spotting mistakes, when you're writing, you're usually not thinking like that, and you have to go back when you edit your own work, and maybe try to look at it like that. But often you actually miss things as well, because if you've been writing it and reading over it 10 times already, there might be a say a phrase or a sentence that you have copied pasted from below or moved around a few times, and the way that you've inserted it, you know, in your head what it should say, but you have left another word in. And so the mistakes. I mean, I think things that I write the mistakes that might appear more likely a result of me editing the piece and forgetting to take another word out, and then trying to prove read it myself. But because I've been reading it so many times already, I just like skipped the step that I skipped the crucial spot already. And my brain fills it in with what the correct alternative should be. So I think as a writer, it's not something that I think about, I think it's actually very difficult to think about it explicitly as a writer, because you're if at least if you've internalized what the correct grammar is, because you're kind of you, you skip, you can skip over these areas. But as an editor, it's much more prominent. To round

Jeffrey A. McGuire  14:26  
out the writers perspective. One of the reasons that we write as a team is because the the result of working on a piece that two of us or three of us, or four of us work on is always going to be better than the result of only one of our work. One of the reasons is because when you're reading your own work, you're reading what you wanted to write and you're reading what you imagined you wrote and not necessarily what your fingers did. When you stayed up to that after dinner to finish something.

Christine Beuhler  14:56  
As a writer, obviously it's very important to You have good grammar, and you probably don't want to be told that you're making grammar errors. But as a writer, I think the gram editing code is really healthy. Because many of us haven't really thought or talked about grammar, and any sort of real way, since college, maybe even farther back to like, middle school or grade school. I think it's honestly, it's just helpful to have like a refresh on like, basic grammar rules, there's a lot of things that you can forget, even if you're a writer who is supposed to be looking at grammar, every single day, sometimes you can look at the like official grammar, grammar rules, and you'll be like, Oh, I've been doing that wrong for a while, everyone's really nice at OSP. So they'll just correct you nicely.

Carl Richards  15:58  
Now, this writing code is important to readers for many different reasons.

Felicity Brand  16:02  
I think that I think that grammar errors are bad, and they're easily avoidable. So there are a lot of accessible tools these days that will help you avoid grammar errors. It also speaks to the value of a technical editor, because sometimes those tools, you know, don't pick up things. So you need a human. And let's think about this, the reason you're writing something, is because you're trying to convey information. Maybe you're trying to persuade people, you're trying to convert them, you're trying to get them to do an action. If you have grammatical errors, it undermines your message, you're going to lose your reader in that they're not going to do what you want them to do. If you are just trying to convey information. Are they even going to believe that information? If if you have grammar errors, and you didn't find them? Were you too lazy to pick them up? Why should they believe what you're saying? So you're not a credible voice on the topic? Or if you're trying to get them to click here by now join the community? Why should they act if you've got grammar errors in in that piece of writing, you're losing their trust, their confidence in you as a writer. So we started out this episode, and I was thinking, grammar, it's a small piece, it's an obvious piece. But really, now that we wrap up, I can see how important this code really is. And I hope that our listeners can too.

Chris Fenwick  17:29  
As an editor, I mentioned that you have an alarm bell going off, but I think readers often do have this as well, they might not immediately be able to pinpoint the source of disease. But I think they'll know that something is a bit off. And again, this just comes back to that. And then as soon as they notice something is a bit off, you've lost them, they no longer have confidence in in what you're saying. And then they might actually start to be preoccupied with proofreading your texts rather than paying attention to the font. All

Jeffrey A. McGuire  18:01  
right, that can get super distracting. And the reason why open strategy partners exist is to write and create functional communication. Mostly words, we do other things too. And the functional communication is to show a potential adopter of a technology a potential purchaser of a service. Here's what this technology does. And here's how you could benefit from that. And give them a path to a conversion to download an install an open source package to buy something to book a demo. And functional writing can be interesting can be beautiful. But there's always a purpose behind it. And our purpose is to build trust and credibility for the people we're writing with, so that that conversion can happen. And if we're distracting them with bad form, in any number of ways, then it's really hard to build that trust

Christine Beuhler  18:50  
the gram editing code is it's not always necessary. Depending on what kind of writing or reading you're doing, like social media, not exactly a place where I expect there to be perfect grammar. And if you are expecting that you're going to be disappointed. But when it comes to reading something, one of the first things you're looking for as a reader is a signal of trust. Like, why should I trust the information that's being presented to me here? Why should I trust the person who's writing about it? And having correct grammar is just a simple way to build at least one block of trust. I know that's true for me as a writer. I don't know if I'm more sensitive to that just because I am a writer and editor. I think most people will tolerate some errors. But I think it can erode trust, the more they add up So it's better to just have airtight grammar as much as you can just because it's a simple way to build trust with readers.

Carl Richards  20:25  
I hope you dear listener didn't find any glaring errors in our words today. Please forgive us and remember to check your own writing using a tool, an editor or by walking away and looking at your work with a fresh pair of eyes. Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy, or email Hello at open strategy partners.com. Next time you're writing be mindful of word choices that contain references to time. Oh, and speaking of time, yesterday, I bought six watches. You could say I have a lot of time on my hands.

How do you use date in your writing? Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at open strategy partners.com. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to open strategy partners.com Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas that OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Gamal for our high energy maple syrup flavor theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing. About our three themes on the podcast, you'll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and products. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication connection together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple pod the podcast channel of your choice.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  23:25  
I never I never would have thought that we would have had is that correct? When it comes out of my mouth, it's wild. I never would have thought that we would have had so much to say about this code. I thought we could have had the whole podcast with Chris's first statement.


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