Before You Hit Publish, Week 1

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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?

Writing.

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 vanderbiltwife@gmail.com.

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.

14 thoughts on “Before You Hit Publish, Week 1

  1. I am completely judgmental when it comes to reading others' work. It is a sign of stupidity for me when someone misuses the word "whom" or when they end a sentence with a preposition. I remember sentence diagramming in Mrs. Hunt's class and you know how wretched I am at spelling, but communication in words is important. I don't think it should be tossed away because people use "u" and "r" on their cell phones. I just look down my nose at those people. Am I snob? Most definitely. 😉

  2. There are some errors that bloggers/writers make that irritate me…but then I look at myself and realize that everyone makes mistakes and I cannot condemn someone because they misused a word. I will avoid that blog or publication in the future if mistakes are made egregiously.

  3. My biggest complaint is misuse of me, myself, and I. I didn't learn grammar in school, either. I learned from my grandmother and mother, both English teachers.

  4. I struggle with grammar, but I am often annoyed by the overuse of slang in the blog world. I went to an arts program as opposed to a regular middle/high school and sadly grammar was overlooked all too often. Even as an Elementary Ed major I felt lacking in that area. I'm looking forward to learning through your series!

  5. I feel the same way. My friends make fun of me all the time for my attention to detail when it comes to grammar, punctuation and spelling. Having been a journalism major in college and a writer in some capacity professionally for 15 years or so, it's just as much a part of me as my fingers and toes.

    A bunch of my closest friends got all over me about this post: http://katandgray.blogspot.com/2009/09/things-people-say-that-make-me-want-to.html , but that didn't stop me from writing a follow-up post not too long ago: http://katandgray.blogspot.com/2010/02/things-people-say-vol-2.html . It really IS like a disease. 🙂

  6. I'm not the greatest with grammar, though I do try.

    I do proofread all my posts before publishing.

    I tend to blog how I speak, so I have lots of … and — and (aelkgjag) and made-up words. 🙂

    If I ever write an ebook, I'm totally hiring you as my copy editor!

  7. As a blog reader, I'm pretty forgiving of grammar mistakes because I'm usually reading with my heart. I hope my readers show me similar latitude. I'm eager to read your grammar posts. Personally, lay/lie gets me every time.

  8. Wow, my schools/teachers must have been on it. They were crazy about grammar! My mother also made sure to correct us everytime we spoke incorrectly. Plus, I was on my high school and newspaper staffs, I learned so much from those experiences. I hate to be a grammar snob, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

    Apart from basic English class education, the best thing people can do is read. I've found that almost everyone I know who is a "reader" can put together a sensible sentence, and they are more likely to be a good speller.

    It does kind of bug me when people clearly don't even run spell check before they publish. Honestly, a blog is *kind of* like an online resume. Would you print out and send (or email) a resume with glaring typos?

    PS – Can you PLEASE do a post on email writing/etiquette? Oh, I would love you forever. Personal blogs are one thing, but professional emails are another.

  9. Eats, Shoots and Leaves is one of the best books! And I would LOVE your grammar blog, of course!

  10. This.. is fantastic! I also read the post that was written about this post. TOTally impressed w/u! j/k
    I am totally impressed with you.

  11. Jessie, I am so proud of you for doing this! You know I'm a grammar snob, so I can't wait to read your grammar posts!

  12. I have vague memories of my sophomore English teacher writing on the chalkboard, talking about participles while I zoned out and wondered what they were serving for lunch in the cafeteria. I loved to write, but didn’t find the mechanics of it interesting at all.

    I agree that correct spelling is important, but an extra comma here and there doesn’t bother me. I also think sometimes breaking grammar rules on purpose can be effective.

    I google grammar rules often, since I can’t remember any of them. My biggest problem is that I’m a terrible proofreader. I know the difference between its and it’s, but type the wrong thing in a rush, then miss it when I re-read it.

    Looking forward to this weekly series!

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