Friday, March 15, 2013

Writing on Display All the Time - Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot

 by Vivian Zabel  

        How can we shoot ourselves in the foot with writing? Simple, we don't pay attention to what we write, especially if we don't believe it important, such as in a Facebook comment or post or a message sent to another person that may be aired publicly. We fail to think we are on display as a writer or editor. Other times, we may hurry and become careless. The fact remains, we need to remember our writing is on display all the time others can read it.

     As an author, an editor, a publisher, and a retired English teacher, the number of errors (not just typos, we all have those) found in posts by "authors" or "editors" on social sites makes my teeth clinch in agony. Then along come articles and blog posts by authors and editors full of some of the most commonly known grammar -- incorrectly used. The mistakes found in stories, novels, and other types books become an avalanche. 

     The word there is used in place of their or they're, or one of the others is used incorrectly. It's and its are interchanged incorrectly, as are your and you're. Those examples are simply a few of the grammar mistakes I read every day. Commas are not used where needed, or they are sprinkled like rose petals everywhere possible. Run-on sentences create a feeling of confusion in the minds of readers.
     All right (and that's another mistake, using alright for all right), some people don't know grammar well, but writers and editors definitely should. I don't know that I would want to read a book by someone who can't manage to understand the difference between homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings) and/or what version of a pronoun is used as the object of a preposition. For example, I often hear (hear not here), "That's important to Mary and I." Really? He would say, "That's important to I"? Actually, that is what he did say. A compound object is the same form pronoun as a singular object. And I have heard and read that problem from so called well-educated people. Anything between a speaker or writer and another person means the object form MUST be used: between John and me; between my husband and me; between you and him.
     I know some people think that using correct grammar isn't important, not even for writers. After all, editors are responsible for making a writer's work "pretty." Wrong. Many publishers do not edit. Whatever the author wrote, the way he wrote it, goes in print, if accepted. Also, I've seen editors make some of the same type mistakes in their writing and editing. Again, I'm not talking about an occasional typo (which we all make and need to watch and correct); I mean mistakes that brand us as not being good writers or editors.
     A side note to those who don't believe good grammar matters since they don't write or edit: Not only are writers expected to use their own language correctly, but businesses are expecting their candidates for employment or promtion to use grammar the right way. "Experts" say the use of correct grammar shows intelligence, creativity, and a desire to communicate effectively: traits that employers want in those hired or promoted. I'll cover this topic later, but business experts are presenting arguments in support of not hiring or promoting those with poor grammar skills.
     I fought high school students for nearly thirty years, trying to help them understand and use their language correctly. I cringe when I read what some of them write on social sites because I know they should know better. However, I shudder more when people who call themselves authors or editors slaughter grammar.
     As I said, we all make typos, especially when auto-correct kidnaps our words, but correct grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure do matter. 


  1. Vivian,
    I greatly enjoyed this post. While I pride myself on proper use of grammar and style, I'm sure I've been guilty of some misuse in the realm of social media. I think I'm most surprised by the lack of proofreading one's work before posting. One has to wonder about the long-term ramifications of texting and social media.


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  3. Vivian, this is a great reminder. I do try to be careful in what I post online, but I admit there is the occasional error. Social media can be a problem because everyone is scrambling to do this, that, and the other thing; it's easy to miss something, so our comments tend to be rushed.

    As a writer and editor I completely understand the need for accuracy and will definitely try to be extra careful.

    On the flip side, when someone usually uses proper grammar and style, it's not the nicest of things to zone in on an error. While bringing it to the author's attention privately can be helpful, making it a public spectacle is just . . .

    I see the occasional social media error from writers, but know they are good writers. I know it's simply a rushed typo and know it's not a reflection of their writing or editing ability.

    Life happens, so does the occasional mistake.

    While striving for perfection can be a good thing, expecting it isn't always realistic. This is why you see the random error in big publishers' books.

    With all that said, it is a writer's responsibility to be as accurate as possible in all writing formats. The problem arises when someone doesn't know your body of work. His only impression of your writing is that rushed comment that has an error in it.

    This is so long it should be a post. :)

    1. I don't complain about occasional errors, but I see the same "writers" and "editors" making the same ones over and over.

      Yep, almost a post. *laugh*

  4. I know some people think that using correct grammar isn't important, not even for writers. After all, editors are responsible for making a writer's work "pretty."

    This is so true. I read a chapter by an author who was new to me. In this first chapter--the one that is supposed to hook the reader and get them to continue--I found so many careless spelling mistakes, I couldn't read further. When I mentioned it, the author said he would tell the publisher about the mistakes. I was caught off guard. Isn't the author the one ultimately responsible for making sure the text is correct?

    I feel the larger issue, however, is in our means of communication past, present, and future. Email and texting has taken over a world once proud of the written word. How can we expect our young people to use proper grammar when they are constantly typing, "LOL" or "C U 2nite?" Though I feel schools focus much more on reading and writing than they did in my days, not all children are making the necessary strides to ensure success. My eleven-year-old still spells phonetically and depends too much on spell check to correct her errors. Technology is wonderful, but it has its disadvantages, too.

    1. Too many English teachers teach only literature, not writing, any more. It's disheartening.

      Yes, the author is the one untimely responsible for making sure the text is correct.

  5. I cringe at some of the new comma rules in the publishing world. If I can't understand it otherwise, then it needs a comma. Glad 4RV does careful screening for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

  6. Vivian,
    This is a needed reminder. I am glad to have read it. I try my best to edit my blog posts carefully but am sure I have not caught some mistakes. All the more reason to be vigilant at all times! Thank you.

  7. We all goof from time to time, but I hope I continue to improve and catch more of my errors. Nothing is more glaring than an editor or author leaving a comment or posting on a blog that has typos or other errors.