Monday, April 19, 2010

If you want to appear professional

... grammar is important. Very. If you're writing – memos, letters, or anything professionally – it matters. A LOT. Oh, and yes, that matters for Web sites, blogs, tweets, Facebook postings, e-mail, and even (to a lesser degree) text messages and instant messages. Poor grammar makes you look bad. It takes away credibility. It makes you appear uneducated, and thus less knowledgeable. I understand not wanting to appear "stuffy" – really, I do – but proper grammar (or at least spelling) doesn't make one stuffy. It makes one appear professional. If you're serious about what you're writing – copy for a Web site, your blog, or anything else – and you want others (meaning your readers) to take you seriously and view you as someone who knows what they're talking about, well, then, clean up your act!

Before I continue, I figure you're wondering who I am to be saying such things. I abbreviate things without thinking sometimes – that comes from too much time posting things on forums. While I try to avoid forum-speak, it does come in handy when I'm using Twitter! ;-) Sometimes, when I'm trying to type fast, I slip back into forum-ease. I mean, c'mon, typing "DH" is a lot quicker than typing "my husband." And, yes, I sometimes screw up my grammar and/or spelling (I recently wrote "it's" in my Facebook status when what I wanted was "its") – nobody's perfect, after all!

But, here are my credentials: I hold a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Illinois. While there, I worked for two years on the school newspaper, most of which was as a copy editor. After that, my career has been in publishing – mostly newspapers. I have dabbled in page design (which I prefer), technical stuff I'll spare you, and other things, but my primary time has been spent editing. I was a copy editor for about 4 years. After that, I switched to a more technical job, but still did a LOT of editing, including copy editing.

Copy editing = cleaning up copy. Fixing grammar, punctuation, spelling, even fact errors.

When my youngest was born, I quit my job to stay home with the kids. That doesn't mean I lose my editing skills. I am an avid reader, and reading a lot keeps one in check. It's amazing how that works, but it really does. I guess if you submerge yourself in something, it becomes part of you. It makes sense. They say the best way to learn a foreign language is to go there and use it. Since then, I have edited a few novels, including Nyphron Risingand The Emerald Storm– both by Michael J. Sullivan. I am planning to edit the last two books in the series, too. I doubt they'd have me do more than one if I don't know what I'm doing! ;-) So there, now you know who I am to be saying all of this. (Do keep in mind, though, that I am no less human than you. I, too, make mistakes – even in grammar and spelling. There are some points I have trouble with, and most editors have their Achilles' heel. Plus, I often think faster than I type, resulting in typos.)

Anyway, back to the original point of this post. Grammar matters. A LOT. I understand that it can be difficult to master. I understand that it can be boring to learn. I understand that it's not what you'd prefer to be spending your time worrying about. But, if you want your blog (or Web site, or whatever else) to be seen in a professional – or at least credible – light, you have GOT to figure out the grammar. You MUST.  ...

Stopping myself from getting into another rant ...

A few of the finer points that have been driving me nuts lately:
  • Do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals. Just don't! Apostrophes are generally for POSSESSIVES and CONTRACTIONS. (Possessive = a word that denotes ownership, i.e. the dog's bone. Contraction = shortening a word by removing a letter, inserting the apostrophe as an indication, i.e. shortening cannot into can't.) 
  • Understand plurals. As stated above, do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals. Plurals are complicated with a bunch different rules for different cases. The one I see most (and which prompted this post) is after a Y. Do NOT use 's after a Y – at least not if you're trying to denote plurals. Generally speaking, if you're changing something ending in a Y to plural, remove the Y and replace it with IES. That's not always the case, but most of the time you'll be right on! Examples: One mommy, two mommies; one fly, two flies; one daddy, two daddies. (One VERY important exception is day and words ending in day: day is days; Monday becomes Mondays; and so on. Honestly, I don't know exactly why this is, but I know it's right. Anyway, just DON'T use an apostrophe here. Monday's does NOT mean more than one Monday; it means something belonging to Monday. Day's does NOT mean more than one day; it means something belonging to a/the day.)
  • Avoid some common blunders. It's/its is a PRIME one. Remember that point above about contractions? It's = it is squished together. Its = something belonging to it. There/their/they're is another biggie. There is the location (not over here, over there – notice the T on the front of "here"). Their is possessive (as in that's their car). They're is another lovely contraction. They're = they are. (They're such nice people.) 
And I'm going to stop here. I'm not a teacher, so I don't even know if I can explain this stuff well. I just know I'm tired of people presenting themselves as professionals but not even knowing some of the most basic points of grammar. If you want to write or do something that requires writing, you SHOULD care about grammar. Glaring grammar/spelling mistakes make you look like you don't know what you're talking about. You could be the most knowledgeable person out there, but not mastering the language you're using chips away at your credibility. Readers don't consciously decide you're not trustworthy; it's subconscious. But it's very real. Why else do you think the publishing industry has editors, copy editors, and even more types of editors?

So, if you're wanting to look like you know what you're doing and you need some help, here are some good titles that you might find helpful (descriptions from Goodreads):

Painless Grammar
If you've hated every grammar book you've ever had to open, get ready for a pleasant surprise! This book mixes parts of speech and punctuation rules with large portions of humor, down-to-earth examples of correct usage, and funny cartoon illustrations. As you learn painlessly about how to make a verb agree with its subject, or a pronoun with its antecedent, you'll look at some of the wackier words in the English language and see how they are often misused. This new edition also gives you some handy tips on sending e-mail messages to your friends.
English Grammar for Dummies
Sick of people correcting your grammar all the time? Relax! Let expert Geraldine Woods show you the way. From pronouns, participles, and parallel structure to adjectives, verbs, and tenses, this friendly guide will put the joy back into "proper" speaking and writing — without bogging you down in a boring list of rules.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well
If you have trouble putting your thoughts down on paper, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well has everything you need to know to make writing of any kind as easy as thinking or speaking. This guide gives expert advice on making your writing as clear and persuasive as possible, whether it's a thank-you note, a school paper, or an executive briefing. It provides easy-to-follow guidelines on structure, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, and style. You will find terrific tips on minimizing the time and energy taken up by tasks like research, note-taking, and proofreading.
There are many, many more books out there that you can read specifically on grammar, many of which are intended to be easy to understand. Just go to Amazon and search for "grammar" in the books category. You have a plethora of books from which to choose!

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P.S. If you notice any errors in this, please be kind if you choose to point them out. As I stated above, I'm no less human than you. I, too, make mistakes – even when writing! ;-)
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