Where are the good writers? And editors?

May 29, 2014

Much to my disappointment, writing that is error-free, typo-free and grammatical seems to be a thing of the past. TV commercials, radio commercials, and printed materials abound with errors. It makes me crazy and it makes me sad. It also makes me wonder who’s in charge. All I can do is shake my head, after I turn off the painfully sad commercials with people who don’t speak properly. I’ll never buy their products, but obviously I’m not the intended audience so they don’t care. 😦


Edit with Respect

June 27, 2013

As a communications professional or manager, you are likely tasked with editing the work of others.  How well this editing is received depends upon you and your attitude.

writing pic

A few years ago, a young woman on my staff asked me why her colleagues seemed to be so offended when she edited their work.  After observing her in action, I realized that, while her editing was right on, her attitude was not. She treated people in a condescending manner and incredulously asked one person how it was possible that he did not know a basic grammar rule.

Rule number one for communications professionals is RESPECT. Respect your colleagues, subordinates and managers, regardless of their writing skills. It will go a long way towards developing and maintaining good work relationships.  (This is a good rule for all workplace interactions regardless of your position or responsibilities.)

My standards vary depending on your occupation. I hold my staff to a very high standard, with respect to grammar, spelling and typos. We are the ones who should do it right. For people in other departments, I cut them a little slack. That doesn’t mean I don’t correct them, but that I do it with lower expectations. Although I do expect a certain professional standard across all departments, if someone in a “non-writing” position, such as a numbers person or salesperson, makes a grammatical error, my approach is quite different.  My corrections will be prefaced by something like, “I’m sure you don’t know this because you’re a numbers person, but…” or “There’s no reason you should know this, but the rule is…” I usually end the conversation by saying, “Feel free to ask me about this anytime, especially if you think something doesn’t sound right. It’s my job to know this and I’m always happy to help.”

 


The Grammar Battle

August 13, 2012

I bought my smart phone about a year and a half ago and swore I’d never adopt the abbreviations and made up words that are becoming so prevalent. As a writer, grammar is of utmost importance to me. Typos and misspellings make me crazy. Well, it took about two months of texting before I gave in to the shortened lingo. It’s just so much easier and faster to type LOL, OMG, what r u doing 2nite…

That said, there continues to be a debate (at least among certain age groups) about how we are losing our grammatical and communication skills. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but our modes and means of communicating are certainly changing. I do know that if you’re online at all, there’s a new kind of peer pressure to accept this new kind of “grammar”.

Some days I like it, some days I don’t. However, I have brought my grammatical pet peeves with me to the online world, and outline some of them here. Unfortunately, I now see/hear these in the written word as well as on TV and radio commercials, which makes me think that proper grammar is becoming extinct.

*It’s. Contraction. Stands for “it is”. It is blue. It’s blue.

*Its. It is a pronoun and replaces a noun. What is its name? Its name is irrelevant.

*There. Adverb, adjective, noun or pronoun. Denotes space. There you are. He went over there.

*Their. Pronoun. Possessive. Where is their car? Who are their relatives?

*That v. Which

If you can drop the clause without changing the meaning of the sentence, use which and set it off with commas. If dropping the clause changes the meaning of the sentence, use that.

Pizza that’s less than an inch deep just isn’t Chicago-style.

Pizza, which is a favorite among Chicagoans, can either bad for you or good, depending on how much of it you eat.

If you remove “that’s less than an inch deep” from the first sentence, it becomes inaccurate. If, however, you take out the clause “which is a favorite among Chicagoans” from the second sentence, it still makes sense.

(Example from the Chicago Manual of Style)

Last but not least, could we please remove the words “like” and “you know” from our vocabulary? You know, like, that makes me crazy.


Proofreading: Top Do & Top Don’t

September 13, 2010

You’ve spent days or weeks writing your very important document, and it’s now time to publish it. But first it needs to be proofread.

Since you’ve spent so many hours writing and re-writing your document, you’re not the best person to proofread it. When you read things over and over, you tend to almost memorize them, and you’re less likely to see mistakes. You know what it “should” say, so you can even fill in words in your head that aren’t actually on the paper. This is especially tough for speed-readers, who can’t slow down their reading enough to catch mistakes. Some speed-readers routinely skip the smaller words; other speed-readers skip many more words.

If you have time, set it aside for a day or two, then take a fresh look at it. Or if you’re lucky, you have a proofreader in-house. Most of us don’t.

My solution? Read it backwards – out loud. And spell the words.

For example, if the sentence is “The sky is blue.”, read as follows:  blue, b-l-u-e, is, i-s, sky, s-k-y, the, t-h-e.

Proofreading backwards is very time-consuming, but it will catch any spelling errors or typos. It will not catch grammatical errors. I first learned this proofreading technique when working on technical journals.

You can also have someone read the document to you  – either backwards or forwards. For example: The, capital t-h-e, sky, s-k-y, is, i-s, blue, b-l-u-e, period.

Obviously, if you’re reading forward, you are more likely to catch grammatical errors.

And don’t, don’t, don’t rely on your computer’s spell checker and grammar checker. Use it as one tool, but don’t use it as your only tool. A spell checker can’t tell you if the word should be “too” or “to”. It won’t tell you if the word is “there” or “their”. The grammar checker may catch some of these words, but it won’t catch them all.

You may also want to REMOVE some words from your spell checker. For example, if you use the word “gape” frequently but have mistakenly typed it as “gap”, remove “gap” from your spell checker.

I learned this lesson the hard way.  Hopefully, after reading this post, you won’t.


Plagiarism Police in an Online World

August 18, 2010

I’ve never been one for depriving individuals of the right to free speech and free expression, nor am I a huge fan of “big brother”, but I’m beginning to think we need some online plagiarism police.

“Plagiarize” – as defined by Webster’s

“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Those of us online feel varying degrees of freedom in sharing our ideas, thoughts, words and pictures. Many times it seems as if those with the least to say feel the most free in sharing. But in a professional world, how much should we share online?

In his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” , David Meerman Scott talks about posting his ideas on his blog, which can prompt intelligent discussions. However, his editors worry that he is “giving away” all his ideas. Scott counters this with a claim that the online discussions helped improve his books. I can see both sides to this, but I have to admit I’m with his editors. I wonder how many of his ideas have shown up under someone else’s name.

In school, if you changed every 3rd or 5th word or something like that, then you technically weren’t plagiarizing. That was the rule. So, what are the rules online? Just like with any other community, many of the rules are decided by the members of the community, but you always have unethical members. Since it’s so easy to link and point back to sources, I think it’s even more unethical (and stupid) not to attribute the original sources. Of course, all the online resources can also enable plagiarizing.

I was reading a blog by Angela Hausman on 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do Social Networking . It’s a good blog; she has some interesting things to say. Unfortunately, another person liked the post too much. The author found her exact words posted on someone else’s blog as original content. Shame on that person. Angela is looking for ways to reduce intellectual property theft, and I agree it’s an important issue that should be addressed sooner rather than later. You can read her response to this “Rip Off” on her Rip Off Blog.

Tae Hyun Moon has been posting in some of the Linked In groups a new electronic resume format. It has some excellent ideas and has generated quite a bit of interest. Again, there’s a but… I’m not comfortable posting my resume online since a so-called friend decided to copy my summary, specialties and job descriptions almost word for word into her own resume. I’ve been a professional writer for a long time, and I was appalled that someone just entering the communications field would find nothing wrong with using my words on her resume. She said I should be flattered. I’m not.

On the flip side, Tae Hyun Moon noted that he is attempting to introduce a new format for resumes, and would like this spread far and wide. In this case, he wants people to copy his format, in the hopes it will create a new generation of electronic resumes. I hope this will be successful.

So what are the rules? And how do you police against online plagiarism? I don’t have the answers, but I bet someone online does.

8/18 note of interest: Mackinac Center says school consolidation study by MSU professor for Booth Newspapers may contain some plagiarized material


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