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Wayne University’s Professor (of English) Donald J. Lloyd has long believed that Americans are too busy thinking about their grammar to learn how to write. They are possessed of a demon, “a mania for correctness,” writes Professor Lloyd in the current issue of the American Scholar. “Our spelling must be ‘correct’—even if the words are ill-chosen; our ‘usage’ must be ‘correct’—even though any possible substitute expression, however crude, would be perfectly clear; our punctuation must be ‘correct’—even though practices surge and change with the passing of years . . . The idea . . . rests like a soggy blanket on our brains and our hands whenever we try to write.” —TIME Magazine, July 1952
I won’t claim to know everything about the history in grammar in schools. What I do know, is no one ever taught me grammar in school. No diagramming sentences. I have no idea what a participle is and generally most of the grammar I know is from working sentences in Chinese. (Where, thank heavens, there is no conjugation but the parts of speech go in a certain order.) I think Professor Lloyd would be surprised at the turn-around that’s taken place since the 50s
While I don’t know that this is true for every person my age, I think the lack of learning grammar in school was a pretty widespread phenomena. In the US News & World Report article “Does Grammar Really Matter Anymore?” Liz Wolgemuth wrote, “Schools have stopped teaching it. Authors have stopped using it. Cellphones flatly discourage it. What a strange thing it is, then, that few issues are as hotly debated online as the significance of grammatical guidelines in the digital world.”
Blogs are a strange business or pastime, however you view it. They are almost all, by definition, more casual than articles written for the print press. Most blogs are supposed to be personal in some way or another–niche or not. What draws me to read a certain blog is usually the author’s voice. Is she personable? Friendly? Interesting? And then, of course, is the topic something in which I am interested?
Which is why I have a long list of things considered “errors” in copy-editing world that I don’t mind in blog writing: made-up words, random capitalization, overuse of ellipses and em dashes. To me, those fall under the author’s specific voice.
There are other errors, though, that constantly grate my nerves as a former copy editor and grammar enthusiast. Misusing it’s and its, you’re and your, they’re and their and there. Blatant typos that suggest the author did not read over her work before posting it. These are simple things to learn. If you consider yourself a writer or want others to view you as a professional in any way, I think it’s in your best interest to take the time to learn those things.
Consider this quote from the same Wolgemuth article:
When a blog isn’t carefully edited for typos, it suggests that the content is meant only to be quickly scanned and disposed of—rather than carefully considered, archived, and reread. Blog writers owe it to their readers, and themselves, to ensure that their words last.
My desire is not to judge or condemn, but to encourage: we are writers. Take yourself seriously enough to at least read through your blog posts for typos and errors. Have a spouse or good friend scan it for you. Especially consider communication with the press and PR representatives. How do you want to come across to them? As a professional or as someone who doesn’t know how to spell?
As an experienced copy editor and now freelance editor and writer, I do offer simple proofreading services for this type of communication (or for blog posts, if desired). My rate is $3 per 500 words. If you are interested in talking more about my services, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For self-education, I would suggest just picking up some books. The more you read, the better writer you will be. Period. Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a hilarious book with great grammar tips, and Elements of Style by Strunk & White is a great classic to have on hand for reference.
After BlissDom, I was seriously considering starting a grammar blog. I would still love to do this, but when I got pregnant, well, all motivation seemed to fly out the window. So for now, I’m going to run a weekly column here on Mondays about grammar/spelling/writing/etc. I hope you’ll find it helpful in your own writing, and I’d love to hear your feedback.