As a vibrant, passionate person out to change the world, you may be familiar with the “hero’s journey,” a construct articulated most famously by Joseph Campbell. The hero’s journey describes in metaphor the stages a person tends to go through when facing a challenge.
Why is this relevant to you? Because in your quest to be of use to people, you’re going to have to go through these stages. If you know what they are and how people tend to experience them, you’ll recognize the stage, when you hit it, as just a stage: not a catastrophe or a tragedy, but a part of the journey that you must endure (or delight in) to reap the rewards at the end. There are tricks to navigating each stage, as well.
Our first example? The “gatekeepers.” Remember in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the group of knights had to cross the Bridge of Death? The gatekeeper asked three questions of each knight. Some got off easy (What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?). Others, not so much (What is the capitol of Assyria?). And Arthur, naturally, rose to the challenge (What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?) with a question of his own (What do you mean, an African or a European swallow?).
That was a gatekeeper kind of test. Job interviews, night club bouncer body scans, and Olympic trials are all gatekeeper kinds of tests. And if you’re attempting to reach an educated audience through your website, you are facing a gatekeeper test you may not realize you’re facing: the apostrophe test.
When a potential client scans your page to see whether he thinks you might be a match to his needs, he’s being critical. That’s a good thing. You put your best stuff out there, and you attract those who need and want to buy what you’re offering. What you may not recognize is what that potential client is judging, and why.
Apostrophe mistakes are so common these days (even books published by major houses can be riddled with them), you may assume that people no longer care whether your web copy misuses them. Not so. Plenty of people use apostrophes as a litmus test. One friend told me, “If a person can’t be bothered to understand that you don’t use apostrophes before the plural “s” then I sure don’t want them fiddling with my health in any way!”
Harsh? Well, maybe. But she also has a point. She has no way of knowing in which areas of your professional life you’re willing to cut corners and to which you’ll give your full attention. So she uses the apostrophe test.
This is why it’s really worth having a copyeditor look over your website and scan your blog posts before you post them. It won’t take long, so it won’t cost much, and the cost of not doing it might be far more than you ever realized.
What? You don’t want to look uptight and scary? No problem! Casual is great! But looking unprofessional is just going to limit your clientele to those who don’t know the difference or don’t care. And clients worth having for the long term — clients who themselves care — are going to be looking for that attention to detail, no matter what your business.
Everyone makes mistakes. Auto-correct itself is often the culprit. But don’t make your potential client have to give you the benefit of the doubt. Wow him or her with the strength of your services, unmarred by punctuation problems they’ll have to try to ignore. Get a grammar-savvy friend to read over your work, or hire a professional copyeditor. Or relearn those pesky grammar rules and apply them to your site yourself (a very Arthurian thing to do). The Apostrophe Protection Society is here to help.
And to that end, here’s Written with Wisdom’s tutorial on a most commonly misused apostrophe.