Words Matter Week: Day 2
Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.
In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner. That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.
Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?
This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.
But when a piece of writing–even a casual email or comment on a discussion board–contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:
now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.
Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.
But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?
- Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
- Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
- If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.
Conventions? What Conventions?
OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.
Find the Errors
Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.
Here are the mistakes I found.
- now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
- i – should be I
- its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
- to – should be too
- !! – never use more than one exclamation point
- the – see #1
- reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
- thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
- hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
- a visit – and visit? for a visit?
- y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
- comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
- its, to – see #2 and #3
- meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)
So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?
The “Final Draft”
Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:
Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.
The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.
Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.
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Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010.