What does your writing reveal about you?

What Does Your Writing Reveal about You?

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

What does your writing reveal about you?

Oh, dear.

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 visitand 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.

. . . . .

Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.

Photos: Andreas Levers and Alex Proimos, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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4 comments ↓

#1 JoJo Tabares on 03.02.10 at 6:06 am

Far too many feel that how they communication on social networking sites and over email is of no consequence. I’ve even seen business professionals communicate this way on Facebook and Twitter. They are severely limiting their success.

#2 Kim on 03.02.10 at 6:55 am

JoJo: Thanks for weighing in. I couldn’t agree more.

#3 Amy on 03.02.10 at 1:10 pm

I’m sure that I do make occasional mistakes, but I cringe to think that I would ever let my comments be seen in such a state! I feel sorry for whoever left that… I’m embarrassed for her. I’m not even a writer of any curriculum and I can’t help rereading and revising even my blog comments several times, let alone weightier correspondence. More often than not, I want to make sure I’ve communicated the ‘feeling’ I intended, but I’d also be ashamed for my words to be left to themselves or even naked without their appropriate punctuation… That’s not to say, that I always use punctuation properly (I’m rather liberal with my …’s and periods for emphasis. precisely.)

I do think spelling is SO important for the same reasons that you’ve already mentioned above. I am adamant that my kids at least be subjected to constant instruction in this area. They may persist in bad spelling their whole lives (may it not be so), but they will not be able to say that it was neglect on the part of their mother :) Writing really does reflect on who you are.

That said, I’m really afraid that this comment may have serious mistakes… you may be sure, I’ll go over it numerous times before hitting send ;) and still, there will be errors. surely.

:)

amy in peru

#4 Kim on 03.02.10 at 4:01 pm

Amy: You allude to the importance of aiming high without expecting perfection from every piece of writing. Sometimes we really mean to use sentence fragments, emoticons, and lots of “flair” punctuation.

Besides that, we’re only human, and when we do make mistakes, it can be hard to spot them all. Goodness knows how many times I’ve wished I could hit “unsubmit”!

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