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Defending good grammar, sort of

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Blogger Penelope Trunk wrote last year in defense of poor grammar. And then recently she did it again. She claims that it’s better to judge people by their ideas, creativity, and enthusiasm than by how well they write. The implication is that as long as they can get their ideas across, the grammar (and, by extension, punctuation and spelling) isn’t all that important. She goes on to claim that good grammar might actually hold you back in your career!

For several years I made my living as a writer and editor, so obviously I’m going to disagree. But I don’t disagree violently. I rather like some of Penelope’s arguments. She just applies them with a bit too heavy of a hand.

Back when I edited other people’s words for my supper, I edited all of David Pogue’s books. (Since then, he’s become the technology columnist for the New York Times.) His copy, always clear and engaging, was a pleasure to edit. Because his books sold like mad, my bosses always gave me plenty of time to work on them.

Most of my other authors wrote B- and C-list titles, which meant I got far less time to edit them. Too bad, because none of those authors wrote as well as Pogue. So I developed a hierarchy of editing that let me do the most good with the time I had. My first pass through someone’s text fixed problems of organization and structure, making the text more expository. My second pass fixed problems of logic and fact that would confuse or mislead readers. My third pass fixed errors of syntax and style. My final pass fixed grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. I stopped editing when I ran out of time – and I seldom made it to the final pass.

Let’s be real. If a writer confuses its and it’s or writes sight for site, nobody’s going to misunderstand. And Penelope argues that the goal should be simply to get your ideas across. If I got through just the first two passes in my hierarchy, I made dramatic improvements to the text’s ability to do that. In comparison, grammar, punctuation, and spelling were just window dressing.

Penelope also condemns impeccable grammar as the product of “demented, perfectionist thinking.” As a recovering perfectionist, I can say with some authority that for most tasks, perfection is at best a waste of time and at worst pathological. Anything you do can always be done better, but past some point the effort to make it better isn’t worth the return. Unless you’re disarming a bomb, good enough is just right.

But I can’t go all the way with Penelope and say that grammar doesn’t matter. After all, it gives us the tools to make sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting. I have to think Penelope isn’t opposed to clarity and interestingness, but rather to needless attention to detail.

The trick, then, is in determining the point past which polish doesn’t pay, and that depends entirely on what you’re writing and who will read it. If you’re writing something fast for your friends, like a text message or a quick e-mail, type it, send it, and don’t worry about it. At the other end of the spectrum stands high literature, which deserves your utmost effort – and which, sorry to say, you are probably not writing. For everything in between, make the right reasonable effort to get it right, and then stop. Reread that letter to the editor or proposal to your boss and fix what you find. Hire someone to edit your resume or business plan or any other document that may form your first or only impression. But then if a grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistake slips through, let the brilliance of your ideas outshine it.

I may sweat the details too much on this blog, but I write it because I love to hear from you. Just like I loved doing my morning radio show for a handful of listeners.

434 thoughts on “Defending good grammar, sort of

  1. Michael

    Aaaaahhhhh! My boys better not see this. They have terrible spelling and grammar, which drives us nuts. However, I will agree the last point once someone has already learned how to write properly. I know it’s a personal issue for me, but I view someone with blatant errors as less intelligent (or lazy). Of course, you can now point out all my errors in this post. :)

    1. Jim Post author

      My older boy is severely spelling challenged as well, and it makes my head pop sometimes. But he’s plenty bright and gets As and Bs, so obviously it’s not holding him back too much. I do intend to teach him how to spell, though.

      When I get resumes for open positions on my team, a typo or two, or even a blatant error, doesn’t scare me off. But when I see a pattern of carelessness or evidence that the person doesn’t know how to write, the resume goes on the bottom of the pile. People who work for me need to be able to communicate reasonably well in writing; it’s part of the job.

      1. daniellemerrow

        I was once almost excused from an interview because I had misspelled “rapport” on my resume. For an interior designer position. Needless to say, I didn’t stay at that job long, but as an already careful editor of my own work (and my own worst critic), I’ve been very bashful about submitting my resume since then. It’s comforting to know that not everyone is that critical of small errors.

        1. Jim Post author

          I am a manager in a software company and I review resumes all the time. While I notice all writing errors — as a recovering editor, how can I not — they don’t keep me from inviting someone with great skills to interview. Now, if someone’s resume was a right mess, with tons of grammatical errors, I might reconsider, because all of my positions require the ability to communicate in writing.

    1. Jim Post author

      I’m a natural speller; misspelling a word would probably make my head pop! Being able to recognize structural and organizational issues in a document is a skill most people aren’t born with, so yes, all most can do is look for rule errors in their writing.

      1. The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife

        That’s a great point. I appreciate people who have your skill, but it makes my head pop when people limit their fantastic editing skills to spelling errors, therefore deeming themselves the king of pointing out people’s mistakes. So I suppose I agree in part with Trunk, that we shouldn’t limit people based on that, because there are so many creative people who don’t give a rat’s behind about grammatical errors … after all, it gives other people a job :)

        Again, loved the post!

  2. Mikalee Byerman

    As a former managing editor myself (regional magazines), I must agree. Grammar does matter. And I proudly wear the “grammar nazi” title!

    Thank you for the reminder. While I may be demented (in other areas of my life) …and I’m definitely a perfectionist…these characteristics do not combine to make my views about good writing irrelevant.

    They just make me odd. ;)

    1. Jim Post author

      Good writing never goes out of style! But personally, I’m trying to eliminate needless perfectionism. I try to make what I write as perfect as the situation needs.

    2. Kristen

      I’ve been a journalist since I started working, and am now an editor with http://lifestyle.8flo.com, an online mag, I guess this background information is sufficient to help you guess that I’m definitely more for “sound grammar”!

      I live in a country where good grammar isn’t really appreciated, or even practised, particularly when it’s spoken. So, I tend to cut myself some slack when I have to convey certain ideas to certain groups of people, in the hope that they will understand me more easily.

      It’s also too tiring holding an imaginary red pen all the time, pointing out people’s grammatical errors in between conversations (I used to do that!) I suspect I’d become less popular because of that!

  3. ElenaSC

    Hi Jim,
    I found your post very interesting, and I really would like to get your opinion about my situation. I wrote a post last week called “When you blog in a language that is not yours” (you can read it here http://wp.me/pXsUB-ye) where I ask my readers to be honest and tell me if I should quit blogging.
    I hope to get your feedback. Thanks
    elenasc.wordpress.com

    1. Jim Post author

      As someone who lived briefly in Germany and at the time spoke German more or less fluently, I understand the difficulty in expressing your inner self in a language that’s not native to you. But at the same time, if you keep trying, maybe you’ll achieve it!

  4. lifeinthemind

    Thanks for a great read. I remember many a time when I was younger my mom going through my essays with a fine tooth comb to make sure spelling, grammar etc, was perfect. As an adult, I know my writing is not perfect, but it’s nice to hear that perfection is not as important as some may be led to belive.

  5. lifeintheboomerlane

    I really do think that when letter writing was the way most non face-to-face communication occurred, people knew how to write. The universal use of the telephone then negatively impacted on writing. Now e-speak has obliterated it. I’m not an English major. Yet I cringe when I see the errors on professional signs and menus, and in books and articles. It’s relentless. And what bothers me the most is that when we throw grammar and punctuation out the window, the meaning of what we write can get garbled. There’s enough misunderstanding out there in the world today. This just adds to it.

    1. Jim Post author

      Great point about how as communication has gotten easier, adherence to “the rules” has slipped. But I just chuckle now when I see mistakes on signs and such. It’s so much less stressful than my former reaction, which was to go into full grammar nazi mode.

      1. lifeintheboomerlane

        My daughter will tell you that the worst day of her life was when I asked to speak with the manager of a restaurant to tell him that their sign outside was incorrect. It was a permanent metal sign, affixed to the wall. It said, “When your hungry, we are here.” The manager had no understanding of what I was trying to tell him. My daughter was completely mortified.

  6. WorstProfEver

    Agree entirely. I used to be in a discipline that did take grammar to its perfectionistic worst; that was not good, and it did impede the flow of ideas.

    But saying that grammar shouldn’t matter at all reminds me of people who think appearance shouldn’t matter at all — it does matter, and to deny that is just going to hinder you in your career. Grammar is the same way. Your ideas need a certain amount of clarity and polish if you want people to take them seriously.

    1. Jim Post author

      Apprearance certainly has its place. I’ve hired some brilliant software testers (that’s what I do for a living now) who had no clue about how to put themselves together, though — and was glad to have them!

      1. WorstProfEver

        Well, there are certainly some work cultures (many of them CS-related) where appearance is thought to be irrelevant — although having had some experience with said cultures, it seems to me that the pride in not caring about your appearance translates into its own, just-as-strictly-enforced aesthetic.

  7. mpaulphotography

    Hmm. I’m not sure if I agree here – grammar and spelling are the tools that help make writing clear, although perhaps not interesting. I don’t care how enthusiastic the writing is – if I see multiple errors or text speak, I tune it out as ignorant. It’s just too much bother to decipher it when I could be reading something else.

    Interesting post – grats on Freshly Pressed :)

    1. Jim Post author

      Oh, no argument — grammar, spelling, and punctuation help us express our ideas. I only advocate applying the right amount of attention to these things based on what you’re writing and who will read it. Editing a text message to a fine sheen, for example, seems kind of out of hand.

  8. dtrasler

    Hooray for common sense! Grammar does matter, and you’re right, shooting for perfect is probably shooting yourself in the foot. I don’t mind falling short of the ideal, as long as people accept it’s there for a reason.

      1. dtrasler

        Somebody famous probably said something relevent about not pleasing all the people all of the time….

        I do some part time work as a Script Reader and correct spelling and grammar mistakes as I go along. Sometimes they make me smile, but other times I’m left a little deflated. If you want to be a writer, isn’t it because you love words? I can’t imagine doing what I do without having read the hundreds and hundreds of books I’ve read, and reading SHOWS you what good writing looks like. Anyway, life’s too short to get really worked up about it. Today.

  9. Yusra

    Grammar may matter in things that will come to the attention of the General Public, but, for those things that are of a personal nature, or less ‘important’ (I’ll let you be the judge of what is important), it doesn’t have to be the best. I say this because my sentence structure is embarrassingly bad (which, I believe is not my fault, I write in the same way I speak. I guess I ought to be a speech-writer). At any rate, it’s all contextual. I agree with you, though, that the basics cannot be ignored (unless the author is new to the language and/or incapable of clear thought due to any combination of things).

    1. Jim Post author

      I dunno, I thought your comment was written well enough, and I don’t detect errors in your sentence structure! And being able to write conversationally is a real gift.

      1. Yusra

        Well, I did try extra-hard on that comment! It may be a gift, but it’s no good when trying to write a technical report!
        By the way, would you mind reading through something I’ve written? (Well, when I get round to finishing it?) I need an honest opinion on it, from someone I don’t know, and honestly, you seem like the perfect candidate!

  10. Ava Aston's Muckery

    Grammar and spelling matter to me, but as a type A, right brain (or is it left brain?) artsy fartsy person I have no patience and I want to get whatever I just wrote, out there quickly. I am glad for the Grammar Nazi — makes us all better at what we do – just sayin’ <— can I say that?

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

    1. Jim Post author

      You are always welcome to jus’ say anything you like here at Down the Road! :-) And for every person out there who just wants to get their ideas out there, there is someone who would be happy to edit your words for you! If the document or audience makes it worth the time, of course!

  11. electric spiel

    I’m in grad school studying to be a high school English teacher, and the best way I’ve read to explain the importance of grammar to my students is to explain that, like many other things in life, written and spoken communication has a set of rules that you must follow to be taken seriously.

    I ask them what would happen if I got out onto a football field to play without understanding any of the rules of the game. They laugh, imagining me, their 5’2″ female teacher playing football. Of course, it would be a disaster. Well, writing is a lot like football in that way.

    The key to using grammar rules is understanding appropriateness–sometimes it is more appropriate to use non-standard grammar. Other times, Standardized English will be more useful.

    1. Jim Post author

      This is a great analogy. At the same time, a quick few scrimmages in a vacant lot doesn’t require quite the same attention to the rules as your average NFL game on Sunday! I think the same goes for the things we write.

  12. californiabean

    I love this post; thank you so much – I am called upon to proofread documents at work, and I have come across much of what you talk about here.

  13. Kenneth C. Ryeland

    As an author, spelling and grammar are really important to me. Poorly edited books turn the reader off very quickly and have a knock-on effect on the author’s standing and reputation. Well edited books, letters, emails or practically anything, are mandatory as far as I am concerned.

    1. Jim Post author

      I agree that when I read a novel or a history (my current favorite genre) and find grammar and spelling errors, I’m turned off. But when I used to edit books, they were always about software and programming. While I didn’t like seeing such errors in them, they seldom hindered the reader’s ability to get value from them.

  14. isylumn

    Reviewing the state of literature today prompted me to self-publish my Pazuzu Trilogy on LULU in 2009. Before then, I received blind rejections from professional publishers, until I grew confused and sick. Despite the great and original story I felt compelled to tell, I knew I wasn’t a good writer – technically, but a lot of horrible books make it to print – and they’re still coming. Some are huge market successes. After nearly a year, a literary agent finally replied with personalized information, citing issues such as tense, incomplete sentences and typos. As my education is confined to a BA in painting and drawing, with a minor in English Literature, there were gaps in my writing I didn’t know existed. So, I embarked on refining my writing skills. Like everyone who tries, I am still improving (the struggle is resistance to lazy thinking). My effort has resulted in the fourth revision of my trilogy this year.

    I paid to have the first half of my trilogy, Pazuzu – Book One, edited at Llumina Press. Still, after that, I decided I wanted an active voice in the story (which I should have used to begin with). My next step was to revise my trilogy and publish on LULU again. The good that’s come of my expense was a real eye-opener to my lousy grammar. For years, people have stated to me “write for yourself.” That advice undermines writers. My motto now is “write so that others understand what you say.” Grammar is important. If writers aren’t writing for others, the extant of their activity amounts to mental masturbation. The only way around the barrier that erects is to exploit a niche market of readers and convince them to pay for redundancy.

    1. Jim Post author

      Even Stephen King has an editor. And also, it is exceedingly difficult to get the attention of a publisher. There are way more people who want to write than there are publishing houses to publish it all. And the key to getting a book deal is to prove to the publisher how the book will sell. They would print 700 pages of the word “oink” if they thought it would sell a million copies.

      1. theamberlight

        Oink! Is that not the truth!?!?!?!! And my mom, being a huge Stephen King fan, told me that he has 6-8 different people who are paid to read his manuscripts, each looking for a different aspect to be sure the book is as readable to everyone as possible. Having just self-published my first book (non-fiction), I did all of the work myself (cover design, layout, editing, even the index, which could have used a bit more editing LOL!). I had four other people read it before I read it for the last edit. The last edit was for punctuation and spelling, word order, etc. My biggest challenge was changing the structure of my sentences to be more “book-like” and less “conversation-like”. I write almost everything about the same way I talk. I have a quirky way of putting my words together “backwards” a lot of the time, just an “Amber” thing. So, even in the last edit, I found places where I had switched the word order. In some cases it actually changed the meaning of the sentence altogether (but if it didn’t I left it, b/c it made the text feel more “me” like). I do feel that grammar today has fallen “victim” to the same mindset as how people dress when they go out. Today, I am often “overdressed” compared to the other people I encounter at restaurants, shopping, even at work! And just try following a 16 year olds Facebook posts, and you will find that their English in no way resembles anything school teaches. Some of it, I cannot even begin to decipher! Great post, and good reminder to “just say whoa” when you get too caught up in perfecting every word. :)(:

        1. Jim Post author

          You know, I think a dedicated writer can learn to write in different styles. I’ve done it. I was once a technical writer, and I moved from writing voluminous “system documentation” to writing very, very spare online Help. Very different styles, and it took me a year to get the hang of it, but with diligent practice I made it. Perhaps you could train yourself similarly, in whatever style you’re going after!

  15. n1babyfoxtrot

    I’m a junior Communication major at the University of Scranton, and my professors are HUGE sticklers about grammar. However, so am I. :) I try to keep grammar and spelling consistent on texts and emails instead of using all of the abbreviations. Have you heard stories of people writing essays with “U” and “R” instead of “you” and “are?” It seems as though the AP Stylebook can only go so far, but I wish everyone could own a copy… That’s in a perfect world, of course. :)

  16. Cara Bristol

    Grammar is form, ideas are style. Both are needed to communicate effectively. Consider the difference punctuation makes with this sentence:

    Woman without her man is nothing.

    Woman without her man, is nothing.

    Woman–without her–man is nothing.

  17. Bryan K

    The problem is that some people confuse casual with careless with vigilantly incorrect. Making proper grammar a habit couldn’t possibly hurt. I was trained to type with proper grammar, and thus, personally, it’s much more time consuming for me to type less formally.

    I’m long past the point where “Y do U type like dat?” affects me. If I ever lose a job because of proper grammar, odds are, it’s not a job I really wanted anyway.

    But then, haven’t studies been done where having a Ph.D keeps people from certain low-end jobs?

  18. runningforautism

    I agree with most of what has been said here. There is a difference between “needless perfectionism” and letting grammar go entirely. The grammar should be appropriate for both the message and the audience.
    Bad spelling just irks me. I regard it as a sign of laziness. Just about every email/blogging/word processing application has spell-check capabilities. A document littered with spelling errors tells me that the author was not bothered to click the “spell check” button.

    http://runningforautism.wordpress.com

    1. isylumn

      Spell checks are an author’s worst enemy. I’ve screwed up my writing because I accepted automated “suggestions.” The feature also deadens one’s own mind. The best approach when writing is “read what you’ve written,” on top of consciously improving one’s vocabulary and spelling. Seriously, people need to read email and posts before they hit submit. The effort gives a writer a chance to reconsider if he or she is communicating exactly what he or she wants to say.

      1. Coco Rivers

        Excellent comments and I love this post. I have to agree wholeheartedly with Isylumn. Technology is fantastic but I’m sure that most literate people would agree it has done nothing for the general public when it comes to writing. It makes me crazy that spelling and grammar seem to be on the decline. Spell check is great but it is making people stupid as they no longer have to make the effort to spell. We retain less and less information since computers can do it for us.

        The obsession with texting and acronyms has spawned stuff that doesn’t even resemble the original words. I cringe when I read the posts of today’s youth as it is barely comprehensible and I am only in my 40’s. Spending a few hours on Facebook will boggle your mind. I often pause to wonder how much of this new lexicon leaks into situations which require the “Queen’s English” and I shudder.

        I am a technophile, lover of language and an avid reader so my point is not to bash technology but merely to point out some of its negative effects. I knew we were in trouble when I had to explain to my 13 year old cousin why it is not a good idea to rely on spell check or grammar check etc.

        Grammar Nazi’s unite!!! :)

    2. Jim Post author

      My 13-year-old son is seriously spelling challenged. I honestly think he just doesn’t have a head for it. He will misspell the same word three different ways in the same document. For him, it’s not laziness, though it really looks like it to his teachers!

      1. vlgonvalcyte

        I have the same problem. Mine is caused by a brain virus, seriously. I do believe cognitive impedences and brain abnormalities need to be taken into consideration by parents, teachers and professors when noticing these spelling abnormalities, poor syntax and when ideas are cot conveyed well in writing, yet the writer is able to articulate well when speaking. Please consider this medical factoid.

        1. Jim Post author

          Yes, you clearly can’t automatically assume anything about a person if their spelling or grammar is poor. One of my sons is genuinely spelling challenged. I think his brain doesn’t “see” words the way most brains do. I am going to try to teach him to spell, but I expect that he will find spelling mysterious all his life.

      2. kelliefish13

        I have similar problems I found spelling and writing in school painful and would sit for ages trying to work out how to spell a word then forget what it was that I was trying to write. Only now in my mid twenties am I starting to get my head around it all and its taken huge amount of effort. Spell checkers and dictionaries only help when you can spell enough of the word to find it.
        AS far as sentence structure goes I mess that up frequently too, even when speaking, often to the amusement of my friends, saying things like “can you pass the tv from on top of my wallet?”. It drives me nuts! The best way I found to deal with it is to laugh it off which often comes across as not caring. I do care, but its part of who I am. Grammar nazi are great and I am so glad you are around to edit books and other documents so I can read and learn. But please don’t just decide someone is stupid or lazy because they make a mistake.

  19. Bromley Lippincott

    I’ve always thought it tragic how editors at major publishing houses rarely get time to completely and fully edit a manuscript – plus, they usually have to do this work in the evenings and on weekends due to their busy schedules. I don’t think editing should be something that’s happening “around the edges” of an editor’s duties. But too often, editors are in editorial meetings, dealing with art directors and publicity people, plus they’re juggling multiple projects and trying to get their pet manuscripts approved for publication. So the average editor does very little editing. One former editor at Simon and Schuster told me that her work was about 5% editing and 95% “everything else.” Maybe editors need editors, and editors should be called something else since they don’t do it much? :)

    1. Jim Post author

      When I worked as an editor, I made the worst money of my post-college professional life, when you broke it down by the hour. I have never worked more hours.

  20. Michael LaBossiere

    As a philosophy professor I get to deal with poor grammar in two ways. The first is in the papers that I grade. Based on my experience, it is simply a matter of fact that poor grammar can impede communication. While I can generally sort out what the student might have meant, there are cases in which it is a considerable struggle and others in which there is actually no clear meaning at all. I do agree that people can have good ideas and yet be poor at expressing them. But, as with any work or craft, how things are put together matter. To use an analogy, I might have a brilliant idea for a painting but be a very poor painter. My paintings would thus not be very good and it would seem that my painting skill would matter (just as the skill to work with words matters).

    The second is that I teach about critical thinking and clear communication. In addition to creating communication problems, there are also fallacies associated with errors (or intentional misuse) of grammar. For example, there is the classic fallacy of amphiboly. If one wonders whether grammar matters, ask Cyrus. :)

    1. Jim Post author

      Great points, and excellent additions to the discussion. I work with some brilliant people who don’t express themselves in writing worth a darn, and so in writing at least they look a lot less brilliant. I argue that someone who can artfully use amphiboly communicates quite well, albeit manipulatively!

  21. rainstormboy

    I very much enjoyed reading this article! I think it’s important to use good grammar when posting something that will be read by a lot of people, but people take it much too far when insisting on perfect grammar for instant messaging. I have tried this myself, and can say that it really isn’t worth the hassle! It’s stressful and really takes the ‘instant’ out of instant messaging.

    1. Jim Post author

      It is exciting that that one author reached out to you after you mentioned her book on your blog! As someone who was once more or less fluent in German, I do understand how it is to feel insecure about expressing yourself in a foreign language!

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  23. amberwrites

    I wholeheartedly agree. I think allegiance to good grammar greatly depends on the forum in which you’re writing. However, I will say that for me, since I am somewhat of a word geek, a misspelling or poor grammar often gets in the way of grasping someone’s good ideas.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. I was recently Freshly Pressed as well. And a fellow Hoosier :)

    1. Jim Post author

      It has been very exciting to see all the comments today thanks to being Freshly Pressed! I agree that word geeks like us generally have a heightened sensitivity to errors in others’ writing. I try not to let it get in my way!

  24. Wids

    I agree that perfectionist is a waste of time and at worst pathological… though I live in a working environment filled with perfectionists and start becoming one…

  25. Admin of TBJ

    As an English instructor, the misuse of “it’s” vs. “its” still makes me cringe; with grammar and spell checks so astute these days, it’s hard for me to accept some careless errors. But I make ‘em too. Nice post.

    1. Jim Post author

      It’s just about the best value I can give with my time. If the author’s work is so poorly organized that no reader could penetrate it, I am adding much more value by fixing the organization than I would by fixing spelling.

  26. Patricia

    I liked the post and pretty much agree. I do think a lot depends on what and why you are writing. I have three blogs–and I am new to writing. One blog I work hard to be correct in spelling and grammar because I am on a mission with it. One of the blogs is just fun and I write like I talk so some spelling is more how it sounds when I speak–like outta instead of out of–and same with grammar. The third blog is somewhere in between.

    Fortunately, I do not write to pay the bills.

    Congrats on the FP–it’s often how I find new (to me) blogs.

  27. Michele Arduengo

    I’m an editor by profession, and while I agree that the occasional split infinitive or misspelled word is no big deal, using correct grammar can really aid understanding, particularly when writing about highly technical topics. Sentence structure (noun-verb-object) is important for reader understanding, and grammatical principles like using parallel construction or avoiding passive voice and nominalizations can go a long way toward making text more readable. Grammar is important, terribly important to clear communication.

    It doesn’t hurt to show some initiative and care by taking time to proofread work and write well within a grammatically correct framework. Good writers do it all the time.

    Michele

    1. Jim Post author

      No argument here. I wish more people would learn the basics and make them habit. It would make editors’ jobs a lot easier!

  28. Tom Chalfant

    I think the importance of grammar is relative to the tone of the writing.

    A book for example, put in front of an editor? I think that book should strive for near perfect grammar.

    A Facebook post? I think grammar is all but irrelevant in that situation.

    It’s like if you are in a bar with your pals and you say, “I got to go.” And then you get an unsolicited grammar correction from one of your pals. Relaxed situations = relaxed grammar rules.

    One time, I even went off on a bit of a rant about it: http://futuretom.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/congratulations-master-of-homonyms/

    A little bit nasty there, but I find it really unattractive when people posture as intellectuals on Facebook. There’s a whole Facebook page where you can “like” the correct usage of several similar-sounding words, and I think it really comes off as petulant and intellectually insecure.

    But on the other hand, it’s very odd when someone decides to start a blog, or to write a novel, and then they start putting their stuff out there, and it turns out they don’t even have a basic grasp on the written language.

    1. Kris O'Connor @Krazy_Kris

      Very Funny! I have a pseudo intellectual 17 year old who strings a few impressive words together. He even assumes the I’m-a-very-clever-person pose, but I won’t be tricked. I’m confident that he has no idea he just spoke gibberish.

  29. Tulum

    mmmm – sounds like another excuse for people to be lazy and not check their work, kind of like “I’ll do a half-ar**ed attempt and that will be good enough, no one is going to care”

    Where does it end? 20 years later it will be “ok as long as they can mumble and wag a finger it’s fine, talking in well constructed, understanable sentences isn’t that important”

    1. Jim Post author

      I certainly don’t advocate half-hearted attempts. I just don’t think that polishing an e-mail to a friend, or even a comment on a blog, to a high sheen is worth the time it takes.

  30. Linda Kruschke

    Grammar mistakes are one thing, and if the ideas are good can be overlooked. Grammar laziness is something altogether. There are writers, especially on blogs, who never capitalize things and have extremely poor grammar from beginning to end. If they can’t be bothered to learn basic grammar and punctuation, how can I be sure they have taken to time to flesh out the ideas they are presenting? If you have good ideas but struggle with grammar, get someone to edit your writing. That’s my two-cents worth. Thanks for a great article, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Peace, Linda

    1. Jim Post author

      I certainly don’t advocate laziness. I would love to see schools do a better job of teaching children how to write, and help them build good writing habits.

  31. ryoko861

    I wish WordPress would take your post into consideration. After reading the 5 ways to get your blog post on Freshly Pressed, no. 4 was spelling. They state that spelling was important in order to be considered for such a honorable position on the front page. Well someone isn’t taking that rule into serious consideration. After painfully getting through a Freshly Pressed post yesterday, I had come across 5 misspelled words and grammatical errors out the wazoo. Yet, there they were, front and center. And the post wasn’t that great to begin with.

    I’m one of those people that will read and reread my blog posts until no more of those squiggly red lines are present. Then I do my best with the grammar. Punctuation is not my forte. I’m not a writer, nor do I aspire to be. But I’ll be damn if I’m going to bang out a blog post and have it look like Larry the Cable Guy wrote it after 6 beers.

    I understand, too, that nobody is perfect. I’m right there with my hand held high. But it’s just common sense to look your work over. No, we’re not suppose to judge people on what they write, but HOW they right does leave an impression.

    And congrats on being Freshly Pressed. I guess you met all the requirements!

    1. ryoko861

      And there’s a spelling error right at the end…should be WRITE, not RIGHT. Damn, can’t edit it either.

    2. Jim Post author

      Well, I do think the 5 Ways are guidelines, not hard-and fast rules. Truth be told, this post was not one that I put my heart and soul into. I post twice a week — I like the discipline of it. I needed a post for today, so I cooked this one up and knocked it out in an hour. I’ve poured myself into several other posts on this blog and those get about zero traffic. Life’s not fair sometimes!

      1. ryoko861

        *pouting* no it’s not!
        :-)
        yeah, but this one post was just really poorly written. But WordPress, despite the massive errors, decided to feature it anyway. Maybe I won’t be so anal with my next posts. I just think having the least amount of errors in a post and having it grammatically correct as much as possible is just easier on the reader.

        I hear ya though on the “pouring” yourself into a post and zippo reactions. Frustrating!

        Thanks for replying!

  32. Addie

    I am shocked that spelling, grammar, and punctuation are reserved for your last pass. Window dressing?! Pshaw! Often when I catch errors so basic as those, I stop reading. Carelessness with the very core of our communication practices tells me that an author is disorganized or uneducated; it is a complete distraction and turn off. I think the elementary mistakes should be the very first ones addressed– otherwise the audience could (and maybe should) lose some respect for the author and the ideas being expressed. To me, reading and re-reading something that is technically perfect, complex, and creative is a sensual process. Muddling up good ideas with disregard for the rules of language makes them impossible to enjoy for grammar whores like me.

    1. Jim Post author

      I created my editorial strategy because time was always too short. I had to fix the biggest problems first. You would not believe some of the messes authors submitted to me that I had to sort out. Spelling, punctuation, and minor grammar gaffes were the least of the trouble! I did tend fix major grammar issues in the first two levels of edit.

  33. CommentatorandPoet

    I have no doubt that there is not a human on the planet, that if they had the opportunity, early education in their lives, would have been their number one priority. Such is the case for me, since I enjoy writing non-profit published poetry over the last five years. Having these skills pace the emotional level of one’s written work, as well as bring clarity to its creation.

    I am blessed in being married to an extremely smart, and college educated woman. At times it hurts to have her review my work, but still the end result is always better than the first draft.

    1. Jim Post author

      Having someone else review your work sure can be painful, but if you choose that person well, it can really sharpen you.

  34. blackshepherd

    this was real good for me to read so I know that my writing now will improve as it gets better I’m happy too because also someone once told me once that I have trouble with run on sentences but I like infinity alot so I’ve always hated to use periods you know I don’t like question marks either but now I feel ok cause you said so and I like you I think I mean you seem nice

  35. Lindsay

    I know that good spelling doesn’t = intelligence. But, when someone can’t be bothered to learn (or use) proper grammar and at least TRY to spell properly, it not only grates on my nerves, but it makes me respect them less. I’m not a grammar nazi by any means (I make mistakes myself) but if someone repeatedly makes the your/you’re mistake, it makes my blood boil.

  36. Hippie Cahier

    Of the many people I know who confuse its and it’s, two come to mind in reading your post:

    One is a brilliant writer. He is clever, innovative, and entertaining. His work is a joy to read and it is clear that he considers his audience when writing. I have no trouble overlooking its/it’s and rarely even notice anymore.

    The other, for whom clear communication is a professional requirement, comes across as careless, disorganized, and rude. Every single time I see the its/it’s error, I am annoyed beyond reason.

    I am not sure what my point is, but there you have it!

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. Jim Post author

      I think you make a nice distinction there. How much the author engages you does affect how you perceive mistakes they make in their work.

  37. educlaytion

    I am so with you. I’m not only annoyed by the misused it’s and there’s of the grammatical world but also using this, they, and it as empty subjects. Most of all, I can’t believe how many good writers throw blog posts out there that contain typos. Maybe I’m Anal Anderson about that stuff, but I go nuts when I find mistakes in my stuff. I’m also a hypocrite though when it comes to the shorthand version of texting and modern writing. idk, maybe its nbd.
    http://www.eduClaytion.com

  38. notesfromrumbleycottage

    This former editor had to laugh when a child’s teacher sent home a note about “arrangement” of alternate lessons being spelled “arraignment.” It took a lot of self control on my part not to get out a red pencil and correct it. Good post and cheers for less perfectionism.

    1. Jim Post author

      Thanks! I do find it amusing when a teacher makes a serious language gaffe. I feel like they’re supposed to know better!

  39. Nere

    I have to say, although I am only a high school student and my texts and emails tend to border on the ludacrious with spelling and grammer issues (one text I sent went along the lines of “omg i miss u&sooooo wish u were here rite now im so lonly…”) I try my best to make sure my grammar and spelling in my writing is as right as I possibly can make it on my own (without the aide of professional editors).
    And since I am working on a novel right now I understand the importance of proper grammar. Once I sent out a copy of a chapter to my friend and she sent it back all hilighted and covered with “What the crap is this supposed to mean”s and “huh?”s as well as “this is a little wordy here, I don’t understand this” written across the bottom. So then I looked back and I realized, “holy crap! My grammar sucked! And it made no sense.”
    So yeah, I guess that is why I check my grammar and spelling as often as I can.

    1. Jim Post author

      I think you have a grasp on what kind of writing deserves attention to correctness and what doesn’t. I have found that as I have written over the years, I do better at getting it right the first time.

  40. kisay

    Ah ha! Finally an answer to a question I’ve often pondered when reading certain books: “How did all these typos slip past the editor???” It was really interesting to read about the four “passes” you’d make when editing a text, and that spelling and grammar were the last priority. And, I suppose I notice it because the rest of the edited text was flowing so nicely and making so much sense thanks to earlier edits. I appreciate this information. And, while I too get a little OCD about spelling and grammar (when reading other writers!), I could stand to remember that it really isn’t as important as getting your point across. Thanks!

    1. Jim Post author

      Editorial secrets revealed! Actually, my editorial system was born of a need to survive. I was headed toward an early grave trying to make everyone’s text perfect.

  41. Jen

    I agree that an error like “it’s” instead of “its” does not usually confuse the reader and most people will not even notice the mistake. And typos are to be expected in text messages and Facebook posts. But when people use apostrophes to make plurals (carrot’s instead of carrots) or spell basic words incorrectly, I have to wonder how they ever made it out of third grade. That so many people DID make it out of elementary school with such abysmal writing skills speaks volumes about the quality of our public education system. It is even worse when someone goes into a writing (or editing!) profession without learning basic English grammar or punctuation.

    I also find it quite selfish when people say they shouldn’t have to use proper grammar and spelling because we will be able to figure out what they mean without it. If you don’t care enough to write coherently, why should I spend extra time trying to figure out what you mean? If you don’t know how to spell something (a clue would be if you have spelled one word three different ways in the same document) look it up. And while you’re at it, make sure the word you are trying to spell means what you think it means.

    As for non-native English speakers: I find they usually have better grammar, spelling and punctuation than native speakers. And the only way to learn is to practice. But I would ask that they don’t try to become the editor of an English-language publication until they are fluent.

    1. Jim Post author

      Not everybody can write. I know some great people, hard workers, love their families, who can barely write a coherent sentence. Bless their hearts.

  42. lnfiniterainbow

    As a Perfectionist – I used to get angry at others mistakes – Now I Kno taht we ohnly nd to undastnd teh Contxt of The Peice to accuratly reed it – I have Far Less Quibbles about Spelling & Grammar Mistakes – Thanx for Your Post – Rique’

  43. Lightning Slim

    @Jen above: 100% in agreement. Rules matter! Sure, sometimes they are meant to be broken for reasons of expression, artistry or humour, but I think it’s important to know the rules so that you know -how- to break them when the time is right.

  44. vlgonvalcyte

    Thank U! I mean Thank You :-) Your writing and grammar had me at Hello…….I try and I try…..however I will never be an editor and yet I Write……thus…..I shall subscribe to your blog in the hopes of conveying my voice in a more clear and concise manner; via text on paper.

  45. Molly

    As a part-time instructor of undergraduate business communications and a former journalist, I can tell you that it’s a slippery slope not caring “enough” when you’re young about what I call “the GPS skills:” grammar/punctuation/spelling.

    The first time I let my students slip by on poor GPS, they slip on other things. The whole idea is attention to detail, and if you don’t care, you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, one day you’ll simply wish you had.

    1. jule1

      Bravo, bravo, BRAVO, you are the type of teacher we really need! I love “GPS”! I think it’s true if you let students slip in that area it’s a slippery slope indeed.

    2. Jim Post author

      I can’t argue your point. Everybody needs to learn how to pay attention to detail. We all have different natural abilities there, but a lot of it is habit that can be learned.

    1. Cat

      I agree: it sticks out like a sore thumb. Especially when reading the newspaper. Those writers are paid money to write their articles and they can’t spell better than a 12 year old? Insulting. It makes one question their credibility (as in educational background)to become writers. The most recent “School News” for parents arrived with no less than 5 spelling/grammatical errors made by the Principal! Way to role model!

      1. Jim Post author

        I have to admit, I hate to see errors in anything coming from my kids’ schools. I think they need to be good role models too.

      2. Frank Lee MeiDere

        In our college I frequently get missives from the Head of Communications who appears to have no actual idea on where sentences should begin and end, what to do with commas, nor how to relate pronouns to their respective nouns (preferring instead to leave it to the reader to discover whether “they” refers to staff, students, or a new set of rules).

        Of course, it doesn’t much matter since the indecipherable jargon negates any chance of extracting meaning in the first place.

    2. Jim Post author

      I’m making the same point: Don’t go overboard, just give your writing the right amount of attention before you send it out!

  46. CultureChoc2010

    I am a teacher and I hate bad grammar. It drives me crazy but children in my school aren’t taught proper grammar – they learn it in my World Language classes not in English class. Punctuation doesn’t irk me as much – but I do hate the use of a comma before AND. I was taught – way back when – no comma. It makes me cringe.

    1. jule1

      I was taught “and” if the two thoughts are different, and if they are related, no “and”. I think there are definitely different schools of thought on using “and”.

      I hate the increasing use of “‘” before “s” — any “s”! For instance, “tree’s”. Geez. HATE that. Although I wish people knew how to use “‘”, I’ve come to believe not using it at all is better than throwing it in willy-nilly.

      1. Jim Post author

        Ah yes, out here in Indiana we call that the rural apostrophe. You see it on homemade roadside signs all the time: Tomato’s.

        1. jule1

          Quite sadly, you see it all the time in urban area signs, too. It’s pervasive. Or should I have said “sign’s”?! Sigh.

    2. Jim Post author

      I have to admit, commas are one of my bugaboos. I think I overuse them. Yet when I go back and take some out, it all looks weird, and I put them back in!

  47. jule1

    I love good grammar! Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation make things so much clearer, at least in writing. Obviously, a quick email to friends is a whole lot different than your resume. I’m hoping people don’t think creatively written resumes which lack correct spelling or grammar are acceptable in the marketplace.

    I agree in general with Penelope Trunk that creativity and ideas are important, but don’t buy the enthusiasm angle. Unfortunately, some of the most enthusiastic people are also the dumbest and least original, so enthusiasm is no substitute for truly interesting ideas. However, if you’re very original and state your ideas well, they’re so much easier to understand, and grammar, spelling, punctuation, et al., are the foundation for clarity. In my opinion it’s just lazy to skip them.

    I also agree that perfection can bog you down. It’s nice to strive for, but only within reason. I like your method of editing and think that everyone who suffers from perfectionism should look at their own methods and remember to perfect the important stuff first, then work down to the smaller issues, if there is time. You do have to let go and at a certain point (and every perfectionist knows where it is for them) it’s time to step back and let whatever you’re doing be what it is, without any more tweaking. Or at least let it rest overnight and look at it with fresh eyes another day!

    Great post!

    1. Jim Post author

      I have been so stuck in my perfectionism that I literally wore myself out as an editor trying to make everyone’s writing perfect. This is actually what gave birth to my editorial system. It was self-preservation.

      1. jule1

        I think this is sometimes why systems come about, so that people can relax a bit. Good for you. A good system is a valuable thing. I used to teach software (how to use it) and was always discovering systems for doing certain complicated things. I wrote them down on handout sheets so I didn’t have to explain and explain and explain, and that’s when I realized systems/rules/etc. can be a very good thing. They can actually make your life easier if you use them correctly.

        I’ll bet you need a great eye for detail when you’re an editor. I could not be an editor, myself, because I can be a bit erratic. Kudos to you for doing it well and realizing you needed a system in order to do your best for each editing job that came your way.

  48. L. E. Wright.

    Great post! After using my blog to support my university course I eventually got tired of obsessing over grammar and punctuation. It felt good to write in a more casual (or, ahem, lazy) style when it was all over, but I still think that people should maintain high standards when necessary. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  49. Pingback: Defending good grammar « Mbconsulting's Blog

  50. eternallyemo

    Great post! I do think that correct grammar and spelling counts for a lot, and I do my best to write as flawlessly as possible for everything but text messages. If I don’t know who I’m writing to, I don’t want them to think I’m careless or uneducated, even for a second. But that’s just me. I have very few discernible skills, so I try to hone them to perfection — even if that means re-reading a blog post up to five times before clicking “Publish”. So I would definitely agree with you on the grammar debate, but I’d take the extreme side because of my own personal neuroses :)

    1. Jim Post author

      I have been known to edit my blog posts five or even more times before posting. I must admit, I sometimes change old blog posts when I find a better way to say something. So maybe I need to take my own advice!

  51. Pingback: Defending good grammar, sort of (via Down the Road) | Chazz Writes

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  53. M. Howalt

    Thank you! Really good points. I enjoyed this post and will go have a look at the rest of your blog. :)
    An acquaintance of mine once told me that when it came to fiction he was more “into a good story with cool characters than the thing being grammatically correct”. I didn’t know what to tell him. To me, that’s like saying, “I’m really more interested in the walls of a house than the floor.” It’s natural to slip up and make a few minor mistakes, but I think the basic structure of the grammar has to be there to support the story with its (potentially) interesting plot and characters.

  54. listentobrittany

    I admitt I’m not the best on grammar and punctuation and spelling now, get it over with.I don’t generally mind too much if people dont have !00% correct useage of words, becuase in the end words are words, they were decided by those who wrote the dictionary, if it had been someone else who wrote it, (or colaboratively wrote it) words could, and probably would, have very different spellings.
    But.
    What does annoy me is the way people, shamefully it seems to be mostly my generation, add extra letters onto words, use symbols when typing or texting and having randomly placed capital letters. For example, 0mD, 1a$t nYtt wazzZ wE11 baNggg1Ng mAyTEee.
    1) it makes reading alot harder. 2) surely typing like that must take longer than typing normally anyway? and 3) it looks stupid. I will tell people if they spell something incorrectly, that is if i notice, but when people type nonsense like that, I cannot see the point because they are usually too thick to understand ‘proper’ english anyway. My fear is now my genreation is too lazy to type properly, the language will eventually deteriorate so much the previous example of what I hate will become the norm.

    1. Jim Post author

      See, and commenting on a blog is a perfect example of a place where pushing yourself to get it right doesn’t add much value.

  55. Darlene Steelman

    Good stuff! I agree with your points and with some of Penelope’s as well. Spelling is absolutely important. When writing a non-factual (or factual for that matter) article, however, I think it keeps the reader interested when using a less than stern format.

    Thanks for this. I enjoyed it. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Darlene

  56. Casey W.

    I am extremely proud of my impeccable grammar and punctuation. It sets me apart from the masses. I have a natural propensity for it, and it can make reading problematic, especially while reading the newspaper in my small town or blog articles that are unedited. I will never stop reading, despite the minor irritation of noticing every little mistake.

    Though I’m a terrible speller, I am one of those perfectionists who proofread text and e-mail messages. I wouldn’t have it any other way! I love the English language and delight at its nuances and potential for immense beauty. While I admit that I am not writing high literature, order in my writing is a comfort to me. For me, it is not restrictive to adhere to the rules of grammar; it is freeing. As with all art, one must know the rules before one can know how to break them and achieve the desired effect.

  57. Boston Margy

    I’m not a grammar Nazi, but a narrative does have to make sense. I find punctuation to be more important than spelling, if one or the other has to go. Good writing skills come with practice and a with a basic knowledge of the rules of grammar. Once you know the rules, you can play, but not before!

  58. michaeleriksson

    While too much spoils everything, I would prefer to err on the side of too much where grammar, spelling, whatnot is concerned. The reason is simple: Sloppy language leads to ambiguities and ambiguities lead to misunderstandings. A one-in-ten risk of misunderstanding leads to ten misunderstandings per one hundred faulty sentences—and even a one-in-a-hundred risk leaves us with one misunderstanding. (Notably, this applies even to errors that appear harmless. While no one will misunderstand “Come here Peter!” due to the left out comma, the exact same error in a more unfortunate sentence could be highly problematic: “Prosecute, Peter!” and “Prosecute Peter!”, e.g., are very different in meaning.)

    In addition, it can pay to bear in mind that language mistakes do, on average, say something about intelligence, education, and ability to think logically. Language is far from a perfekt guideline, but can still serve as a rough indicator of various abilities or deficiencies. Notably, many language errors arise from an inability of basic reasoning. Could I or could I not care less?

    A particular problematic word is “their”, when abused as a generic singular instead “he”. Through a mixture of stupidity and absurd PC excesses, even entirely absurd uses like “I met my cousin. They had lost weight.” have become common. (I write “entirely absurd”, seeing that the author almost certainly knew what sex the cousin had—and should have used “he” or “she” as appropriate.) This statement could mean e.g. that “they” was abused, that a plural “s” was missing from “cousins”, that the author had inadvertently skipped a step and started to talk about the cousin’s children, or that two sentences from different contexts had somehow ended up next to each other by accident.

    1. Jim Post author

      Part of my point is that there are cases where understanding is crucial and cases where it’s not. That sounds weird now that I’ve written it! But if I make a gaffe in replying to this deluge of comments today what’s the worst that can happen?

  59. Drea

    Great blog. I’m afraid I’m guilty of being a grammar Nazi. I was taught the importance of spelling and punctuation at school and this, if nothing else, has stayed with me throughout my adult life. I can understand what previous posters have said about slight spelling mistakes etc. not putting them off but I’ve always been of the opinion that first impressions count and often your resume IS that first impression. (Dyslexia and other genuine difficulties aside of course). I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, perfect in my writing but I despise the recent trend of text speak and unintelligible abbreviations and the ‘content is more important than spelling or grammar’ that my aunt was told when attending a parents’ evening at my cousin’s school.

    The English language is a minefield as it is but sometimes, just the mis-spelling of one word can have consequences.

    1. Jim Post author

      There are times when what you write is your first or only impression on someone, and that impression needs to be good. Resumes are like that, and so I advocate spending the time on the details and having someone else review it.

  60. Single Malt Monkey

    I like your thinking. I’ve had a blind spot about the apostrophe “s” since I discovered there was one. However, the misuse of “affect” and “effect” by people who should know better gets me like a stone in my shoe. I remove the stone and accept that there is meaning and just get over it. But there’s always a sore spot where it was.

  61. auntbethany

    I’ve always had a pet peeve for incorrect spelling and grammar…but when it boils down to it…if a writer can write well and to the core of what she/he wishes to address, in an engaging and insightful manner, these petty errors somehow do not become as glaring. If I am into a blog, a book, a post…I will be more willing to forgive syntax problems if the intent and heart behind each piece is true and moving. J.K. Rowling could have had 100 of spelling errors, and I wouldn’t have minded (the perfectionist in my head would have, but I would have just told her to shut up and enjoy the ride!)

    Great post…congrats on FP!

  62. ohkamisvoice

    I love punctuation!
    I agree with the point about putting more energy into conveying your ideas than perfecting grammar and punctuatin. But, I’ve always liked using punctuation to makemy writing more organic and flowing… I like to play with pauses in speech while writing and making the reading experience feel like a conversation instead of a lecture.

    By the way my favorite piece of punctuation isalways the elipses…

    Don’t stop howling…
    OhKami’s Voice

    ohkamisvoice.com

    1. Jim Post author

      No argument from me — it feels great to get a sentence to feel just right. Sometimes I spend time on a blog post doing that just because it feels good.

  63. alberg137

    While an improperly spelled word may not completely befuddle readers is can leave a very bad taste in their mouths. I know that every time I find a spelling error in a book I have a little less respect for the author, but maybe that’s just me.

  64. Pingback: the limits of good grammar « worldgnome

  65. atomsforgreen

    working in corporations definitely puts a focus on proper writing, grammar, and spelling. it depends on context. I know my bosses barely used English when writing an email to me, but in pitches, the verbiage was spotless.

    in business, proper grammar and spelling are hygiene checks. if you don’t pass that minimum, you won’t get to step 2.

    as a woman, i think i appreciate style, fluidity, and rhythm in writing more than men do – who i think are more content-driven.

    http://www.atomsforgreen.wordpress.com

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  68. Frank Lee MeiDere

    It’s true, simple things like confusing “it’s” and “its” and the double-dozen other common mistakes along that nature don’t interfere with comprehension — once you’ve backed up to re-read them so you can glean the intended word from the misused one. But other types of errors have a tendency to increase ambiguity.

    I teach analytical writing at a city college in Toronto and my students will often claim that they can perfectly understand a sample sentence with bad grammar. But when I ask them to explain its meaning, I get two, three, or even more interpretations. It’s at this point they begin to realise that thinking you understand something is a lot different from actually understanding it.

    But one thing I did learn from this — those students who are the worst readers are the ones most able to pick out the meaning of badly constructed sentences (providing the errors don’t lead to actual ambiguity).

    The reason, I believe, is that poor grammar and incorrect words are like potholes. If you’re an insecure driver going ten miles an hour, most potholes aren’t much of a nuisance. But when you’re an experienced driver going 60, they can throw you right off the road.

    Furthermore, grammar and logic are inexorably linked. Bad grammar all too often indicates bad logic. I’ve yet to read an essay from one of my students that is badly written yet has truly good ideas and arguments. They just don’t go to together.

    1. Jim Post author

      This is a power-packed comment. If I say dog, and I have a Rottweiler and you have a poodle, we are not talking about the same thing, but we don’t know it.

      I like your insight about the worst readers being best able to grapple with poor writing. I’m going to chew on it.

    1. Jim Post author

      Like anything else, I began to recover when my perfectionism brought me to rock bottom. I saw that I couldn’t keep being a perfectionist and stay sane!

    1. Editor001

      Haha, I’m sorry, I was blind-sided by your picture, Jamminjabber.

      I don’t mind being corrected when its appropriate. What gets my goose is when I’m in the middle of a conversation and I’m stoped to hear the ‘correct’ pronunciation of something.

      If it is that important, it can wait until I’ve finished what I’m saying.

      Thats like tripping a dancer!

  69. Lyric Kali

    OMG! I love that cat! We all need a grammar Nazi cat at our sides. As a writer for my own blogs and as a freelancer; the level of bad English astounds me daily. Not to mention the lack of any sort of voice or passion, but that is another topic for another day.

    1. Jim Post author

      Voice and passion are way harder than grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Way harder. If you page through my blog, you’ll find times when I have voice and passion, and times when I very clearly don’t.

  70. johnhauge

    i’m a big believer of content over any number of grammar or punctuation errors. and thank god for spell check. i’ve been told several times that i should hire an editor. no, make that a good editor. or is that an oxymoron? probably not. at any rate, i haven’t done it yet. tossing good money after bad prose or some such thing.

    1. Jim Post author

      It’s the substance of Penelope’s post — get the ideas out there, let the perfectionists roll their eyes over the grammar mistakes.

  71. Ollin

    Awesome article! Great ideas. I agree with you. It’s more important to get your point across. My readers have been asking me to do a grammar post, but I didn’t know how to explain to them that it is more important to write clearly and effectively, and not worry too much about grammar. Maybe I’ll just link to your post. :)

    Congrats on being freshly pressed. I was there a couple of weeks ago. It’s a great feeling, but it’s also overwhelming!

    http://www.thecourage2create.com

  72. elisajoy

    Great post. I definitely agree. In every day life good grammar is probably not that important, but if you are publishing a ‘great work’ or something with a little prestige, than it should be perfect. That’s what I think. People who won’t grasp the rules of writing, I think, are just being lazy.

    1. Jim Post author

      And there’s a whole spectrum in between of things written that deserve varying levels of attention to detail.

  73. Sy

    Loved your post. I scanned through it and I think I got the highlights. Myself, I’m not much of a reader because I get bored easily, or a writer because I understand, virtually, nothing about stucture or form or discipline in any area of my life, let alone writing. which is why I just do my single panel cartoon, “Head on the Table” at Theaterwise.wordpress.com.
    My point is, that if you get the urge to edit something, try my blog. For someone of your talent it would be quick and easy and it would get that edit monkey off of your back for a while.
    This isn’t about me. It’s about you. Go ahead, induldge yourself. (Did I spell induldge right? I would look it up, but why bother, you know what I mean.)

  74. klynsky

    As a high school English teacher, I suspect that, at least for our young people, a reminder not to obsess over grammar and spelling is not nearly as needed as a reminder that grammar and spelling do matter in some situations. I regularly get papers turned in that are written in “text message.” However, for those of us (like me) who get a little obsessive about writing things correctly, the reminder is refreshing. My only concern is that some people could use it as an excuse not to worry about grammar at all.

    1. Jim Post author

      Agreed. There seems to have been a switch in emphasis somewhere along the way from learning the mechanics of writing to “just getting your ideas out,” but that was never followed up very well with teaching how to edit it into shape.

  75. Cora Coco

    I know a couple of people who refuse to write because they feel they are bad spellers. I tell them spell check was invented for a reason, then they can do a sweep with the dictionary.

    Language evolves with people. It can be different as long as your point is coming across.

    Thanks for this!

  76. Deanna

    Valuable information. I had writer’s block for twenty years; I was paralyzed by making grammatical mistakes, paralyzed by people thinking I was an idiot.
    Older and wise enough now to not care about dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s, making mistakes perhaps the best way to learn the lesson. “Don’t sweat the little stuff, for it’s all little stuff.”
    The spirit of your message enforces my new found credo: Do Your Best.
    Thanks for cementing this.

    1. Jim Post author

      Yes, perfectionism is paralyzing! I am still working on mine, but the more I relax, the more fun I have. I like “Do Your Best,” because your best varies. As long as you do whatever your best is today, no reason to ever worry.

  77. biscuitfeatures

    The problem is when the younger generations don’t know the rules of grammar to begin with. It is one thing to make a slip and confuse ‘your’ with ‘you’re’ or something like that, but I can speak at least for the young’uns of of Australia and say that grammar and spelling have gone well and truly out the door for generation Y and onwards (I’m a 20-yr-old gen-Y, one of those few who still respect the English language). I have to admit that I genuinely struggle sometimes to understand what some Facebook users are trying to convey. As each new generation simplifies the language more and more, successive generations will be less able to communicate precisely and about complex ideas. Already, at a glance, they seem stupid and disrespectful. It’s depressing to watch.

    1. Jim Post author

      You’re right — a good command of language and how it works is what makes us able to communicate and understand complex ideas. This is ultimately why literacy is important.

  78. pink3rb3ll

    Hi nice post. I write to express my feelings and thoughts and not to impress people. I signed up for wordpress.com bec. I don’t have time to write on my journal and since most of the time I spent it in front of my pc specially on my days off. I didn’t know that some people will find time to read your post and some would find time to comment. I always have a disclaimer at the end of my blog if I have some typo errors or if my subject-verb agreement are wrong..I don’t mind if people will correct my grammar. I write spontaneously, I don’t pause when I write. I write continuously while the train of thoughts are there. I don’t want to miss the idea. I felt that my mind and my hands are synchronized when I write. Well anyway for as long as I was able to say what I want to say on my blog I am fine with that. It’s my page, I write what I want to say, be it with wrong spelling or incorrect grammar, it’s my outlet to express my feelings and thoughts…it’s my page after all…good day..^^

    1. Jim Post author

      It’s truly amazing how people will find your blog! I’m amazed by some of the readers I’ve attracted out of nowhere.

  79. Jennifer M.

    This a struggle for me. I am a perfectionist, but there are many times when I give up on the idea of grammatically perfect sentence structure when writing. Grammar rules can lead to clunky writing, especially when trying not to end a sentence with a preposition. Other times, I tie my brain in knots attempting to figure out the best way to frame a complex thought involving two or more people of like gender, while allowing the reader to understand to whom each pronoun refers.
    For me, much of writing is problem-solving. Perhaps the more experience I gain, the less I will be met with problems. [That is my hope, anyway.]
    When I read a publication featuring spelling errors involving synonyms (your/you’re; they’re/their) or evidence a writer does not know the difference between possessives and plurals, I do think less of the writer. Is it a lack of basic education? Carelessness in proofreading? Whatever, the writer’s credibility diminshes in my view, especially in the realm of business.
    So, I am not perfect, but I expect perfection of other writers – what an embarrassing admission! There’s no telling what people are thinking when they read my blog, after all.
    I love your statement: “The trick…is in determining the point past which polish doesn’t pay…”
    Thank you for a thought-provoking post. -Jen

    http://sasfiction.wordpress.com

    http://littlecreekvet.wordpress.com

    1. Jim Post author

      I understand tying the brain in knots trying to figure out how to say something. I have learned that most of the time if I just relax, it comes out all right. I could easily go back and edit this very post, and spend two hours on it.

  80. centimocomun

    Ouch man! But it’s also true that idea has to come first. Giving importance to grammar every sentence or two limits my imagination and creativity. Sometimes when I focus on structure it took me light years to finish one paragraph. Hope to develop the skills few of your tribes enjoy. Great post.

    1. Jim Post author

      When I write, I try to just let the ideas come, and then go back and edit it. Trying to do ideas and grammar at the same time bogs me down!

  81. Rachel

    Such an interesting perspective. I used to be a perfectionist myself, then I moved to China to teach English. I’m happy when my students can communicate with me, regardless of how poor their grammar is. Though I must say that I tend to think written English requires a higher standard of grammar than spoken English does. It simply tends to be more formal than our everyday conversations.

  82. Jean

    If you will say that grammar, rhetoric (the art of persuasive writing) and writing style doesn’t matter, then I strongly will say to the person: then (strong, loud emphasis) demand people who have English language as their 2nd language or who are recent foreign language immigrants, that they must speak and write English properly. Don’t be a hypocrite, ok?

    I hear this repeatedly over and over: second language English speakers who must learn English to survive in their newly adopted country, may eventually write and speak much more proper English than some native speakers.

    Respect the language as a powerful tool by writing with clarity and persuasion for the right audience. There is room for making mistakes and taking some sentence stylistic shortcuts only in one-to-one conversations with close friends and family members who tend be more forgiving since they know the writer beyond the written word.

    I do get pissed off at myself for making grammatical errors for any business writing –meaning any emails, reports or any other documents within my paid job. But even in volunteer work, over the years, where I do write for an organization’s blog or their newsletter, I do want my writing to be persuasive or even better inspiring as well as grammatically correct. I know I have fallen down on the latter at times. It depends on how much I can or want to invest.

    If a person does seem to naturally love writing but has a genuine lower level of literacy, then it’s easier to “forgive” but it doesn’t make reading their document or blog post, any easier.

    1. Jim Post author

      I love language. I love English, and I also love German, which I wish I had more opportunity to speak. But I recognize that not everybody loves language, not even some of the authors I’ve edited, and no matter how much I may beat my chest at them they’re not ever going to get it.

  83. thorsaurus

    I think the more you write (and read, for that matter) the less you have to worry about grammar. It becomes instinctive. Such inherent grasp of the rules allows you to be more creative, take chances. Spell check programs tend to sanitize creativity, blunt the edges. I like reading from pages sharp enough to poke me in the eye. I strive to write that way as well. If my spell check program ranked infractions by frequency, “fragments” would be at the top of the list with “contractions” close behind.

  84. stuckoutsidethebox

    In my opinion, grammar does matter! I often point out grammatical flaws although I’m far from perfect myself. I know not everyone can write very well, but sometimes the grammar is so bad I have difficulty understanding what’s being said! I don’t mind, say, a text message from a friend. But what makes me laugh is when errors show up on a sign or brochure. Something “official.” There’s a sign over a business in my town that displays “it’s” instead of “its.” It’s not that hard! Even if the important part is getting the idea out there.

  85. submeg

    Thank you for this post! You don’t understand the nightmares I have after reading comments made on facebook…personally, I think we are all doomed. All the kids in school have no idea what they are doing. There will be a split – those who can spell and those who cannot. Wonder how easy they will find things once they realise that they can only communicate with those that have a similar grasp of language.

    Please, save us all!

    Submeg

    http://submeg.wordpress.com/

    1. Jim Post author

      I don’t know if it’s as bad as all that. My 13-year-old son’s Facebook posts are frightening but when he applies himself, such as on a paper for school, he does all right.

  86. bagnidilucca

    Of course spelling, punctuation and grammar are important. What is wrong with trying to do something correctly? Anyway, my grade 5 teacher, Mrs Folliet, would come back from her grave and make me stand on my chair if I made a mistake.

    1. Jim Post author

      I think it’s more powerful to teach children the fundamentals of writing and give them lots of practice so that they are more likely to write well naturally when they’re older.

  87. prayforgujarat

    I am a perfectionist as well as a homeschool mom. To me, grammar is important and poor grammar is a sign of either ignorance or laziness. And today with almost all writing being done on computer, there is no excuse for poor grammar. All you have to do is notice the red lines under your text, or even do a spell check after. However, I tell my children this is not an excuse not to learn the correct way of writing. Being able to express yourself clearly and well is important.
    On the other hand, I agree that there are times that grammar is not important. Text messages are one example, and chatting with friends online is another–even though I personally have a very hard time letting errors go even in those venues!
    One of my sons, who is a linguist, says that not all of what I call poor grammar is actually error. He says that it is in fact the evolution to the next stage of English. He also says that I don’t have to like it, but I will have to live with it!

    1. Jim Post author

      Poor grammar can be but is not always, a sign of ignorance or laziness. If I were to write something with poor grammar, you can bet I was being lazy. I’ve known a few people, however, for whom grammar was an undecipherable puzzle.

      I have to wonder, however, for how many of those people it is because the were never really taught grammar when they were young.

  88. iShotThePilot

    Bad grammar and prelling drives me nuts, and I can’t read something properly if it’s full of the wrong words.

    I see “Your going to she shops” and my brain goes: WOAH, what?! You OWN “going to the sho”- oohhhhh no, wait, I see now.
    Then I lose my place and my train of thought.

    Call me pedantic, but I figure that if I spent 13 years of my life at school, I would like to see it as 13 years well spent. It’s not too hard to add a few apostrophe’s and “e”‘s here and there.

  89. hazelstevenson

    If there are spelling, grammer or punctuation errors in a written piece, I am so busy being annoyed at the poor editing that I stop paying attention to what has actually been written. About the only thing that is more annoying is people who feel the need to underline these errors in library books – I’m an inveterate borrower and this makes me positively crazy. Here is an interesting thing – the last and greatest with the 20somethings – correct spelling and grammer in texts. No kidding. My kids and their friends now laugh if you use the once popular contractions (LOL WRU etc). I only noticed this in the last couple of months, but it’s an interesting phenomenom. Maybe it’s all the QUERTY keyboards and smartphones. Congrat’s on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Jim Post author

      I get that. I’ve had to learn how to tune out the errors and look for the substance. I think my days as a writer and editor have given me an unusually heightened ability to notice those errors, of course.

  90. David

    Dear Jim: I tutor adults and children in mathematics and English. Having a good grasp of grammar and not catching all your mistakes is one thing. Not having any idea that writing “lite” for “light” in a professional e-mail is entirely another. What the anti-grammanazi blogger that you reacted to was overly pointed criticism of surface issues that overlooked content and brilliance and I agree with her. However, if a writer wants to be taken seriously, even by his or her friends in a casual e-mail, knowing how to make subjects and verbs agree can make a big difference on the reader’s perception of your content. Let me use an analogy. You spend hours finding the perfect birthday present for a dear friend who is difficult to shop for. After all this time, you find that you have run out of time to get yourself ready for the party. Do you skip on the primping and self-presentation or do you put the gift in a plastic grocery bag to get there on time? Let’s suppose you comprise and hastily wrap the gift. The gift inside is perfect, the presentation shows a lack of preparation. No matter how perfect the gift, beside the pile of carefully wrapped presents for the host, yours looks like a wet stray that sneaked in one day and wouldn’t leave. Do first impressions matter? If so, your writing and grammar is the wrapping around which your brilliance is presented to the world. Let it be your best. Sincerely, David

  91. Adrienne Leigh

    Jim,

    I just stopped by to say I really like your writing style and blog. I’m an amateur writer so the entry I happened to come across today really caught my interest. I plan to check in from time to time for more unintentional advice about writing.

    thank you,
    Adrienne

  92. kittypackard

    “The point past which polish doesn’t pay” will be my new mantra at deadline! Came home tonight with burnt eyeballs from agonizing over a few paragraphs that –big picture– were not worth the agony.

  93. lexiedi

    Honestly? I’m pretty weird about grammar. I fancy myself a writer and certain things just irk me. However, everyone makes mistakes and the grammar rules for the English language are insane. I try not to sweat the small stuff…

    I just can’t stand it when people use “less” when they should use “fewer.” No idea why I’m so picky about that.

    1. Jim Post author

      I have my bugaboos, too, the mistakes that make my guts twist. I have learned to let most mistakes go, however.

  94. Theresa111

    Good grammar is the foundation of our language. When it is not applied properly it invites the reader to wonder whether the writer understands the language. On the other hand it might give the reader pause to question if something is correct or incorrect. With the dawning age of global connection, it is imperative we adhere to the finer points of the English language, otherwise it unnecessarily tests a foreigner’s ability to learn our language properly. A second language is hard enough without our throwing obstacles in the path of a reader.

    Along with the growing statics today of the learning impaired or even high school seniors who are allowed to graduate without the capability of reading, let alone writing, I truly believe we have a moral obligation to write our posts, articles, emails and Tweets, using as much of our education as possible.

    Understandably getting a point across to a reader is important, but when the writer has questions about structure, spelling or punctuation, they can easily Google the data. There seems to be a growing lack of regard for good grammar … as long as one’s point has been made.

    Theresa H Hall

    1. Jim Post author

      I think some of what we’re seeing today is leading to changes in grammar tomorrow. Grammar does change over time.

  95. Editor001

    I am inclined to agree with you. Its taken nearly half my adult life to learn the importance of correct grammar. I once received an award from my high school editor. I was the Anti-Christ of grammar and she hated reviewing my work.

    It wasn’t for a lack of idea, or creative spontaneity.

    I didn’t know better. My high school English and Literature were spotty. While I attended one of the most coveted art magnet schools, my courses in writing suffered.

    I was a well literate student, I was always reading works far ahead of my age range. I loved to read, and to write.

    I have found countless spiral bound notebooks littered with wild stories that rival most current published work. Yet when I reflect on work as early as just five years ago, I cringe.

    Something in the last few years has really made me use that extra brain power required in order to do multiple passed of my work.

    I believe there are several influences for my need to be articulate, and correct in conveying my message in metaphor and in literal grammar, spelling, and flow.

    My partner is a musician and a fantastic speller, and has a good eye for grammar. He has always pushed me to be a better speller. They key for me, memorization. If I don’t know, I look it up.

    I credit him to the growth of my expertise, and to reading more and more literature that has quality work.

    Being able to speak clearly in the written voice has never been more important, especially in the age of technology. I struggle to type my text messages clearly, it really does reflect who you are, and your mindset.

    I’m certainly no angel, my writing partners cringes at things that made it past me four times, but then again, she has a fresh eye.

    I find people who are public writers have a responsibility to use correct English it ALL of its forms. When we read writing that has been edited, we learn correct form.

    Writing is like a martial art, it takes practice, and the better we become the more affective our message.

    ~Striving to always do better, as an artist, and writer.

    C.S Grable

    1. Jim Post author

      I think that all anybody can ask is that we keep working to do better. Sounds like you’re well underway in your writing.

  96. Autism & Oughtisms

    Fantastic post, you’ve just changed my entire attitude to how I write (though putting that changed attitude into practice may take somewhat longer). I tend to be a perfectionist to the point of pathology (as you put it), and still I’m never completely happy with how I express myself. Sometimes I worry it to the point of never sharing something I feel passionate about, because I can’t get express it quite right. I will try to keep in mind your wisdom that things can always be done better, so not to endlessly sweat the details, and to give a task the attention in deserves depending on its intended audience. Thank you for that slice of sanity!

  97. thewildhearts

    I can understand that it’s people’s opinions that matter, and not necessarily their syntax, but I can’t help but instantly think someone is dumber if I read a poorly-spelled, grammatically incorrect piece. And poor grammar is often confusing to me. A typo here and there, fine–it happens to all of us. But writing, “Jacks mom and dad went to the store. They wanted to get food for there dinner,” is just not good! Why have bad grammar when it’s so easy to just write things correctly? I agree that perfectionism is a bad thing, and people who crow happily, “THAT’S MISSPELLED! THAT’S NOT PUNCTUATED CORRECTLY!” are super annoying. But so is a total disregard for the laws of the English language.
    A happy medium will do just fine, I think. (I, personally, would die without SpellCheck and can’t spell to save my life, but I still think that I ought to try so that people can better understand and relate to me.)

    1. Jim Post author

      Right, balance is important. Give the right amount of effort to make it clear and engaging, try not to make obvious errors, and move on.

  98. Kenny

    Hmmmm…nice post. It’s nice being freshly pressed. Grammar and punctuation is very important especially for formal events…i quite agree with you.

  99. Sister Earth Organics

    AArrgh! (did I spell that correctly?) One of my pet peeves is reading something with poor grammar. There are a few things that are still sacred, and proper English is one of them.

    I once saw a sign that so enraged me, I took it down and brought it to the authorities to have it changed. The sign read “Drive Slow”.

  100. tanner24

    I teach 5th grade in a rather low income school. My students understand that grammar, both spoken and written, depends on the audience. I don’t expect them to use grammatically correct, academic language when they’re ‘hanging’ with their friends in the neighborhood or on the playground. If they’re writing in their journals at home, they can write the way they’d like. But in the classroom, there is no choice. Being a student is their ‘profession’ and my expectations for their performance are high. I’ve gone as far as having students correct spelling and punctuation mistakes on notes I’ve caught them passing in class. My job is to prepare my students for success in a world beyond their neighborhood. I need to give them all the tools I can. That said, I tell them that the most important thing to do when sitting down to write is to get your thoughts on paper first. We’ll deal with the grammatical stuff later. There is no essay, no research report when you’re stuck on the first line because you can’t spell a word correctly. Write now, revise and edit later.

    1. Jim Post author

      I applaud you for holding the standard high for your students. All kids need to be taught how to express their thoughts in writing clearly. This necessarily involves teaching grammar and mechanics. And I’m with you on write now, edit later.

  101. rtcrita

    I’m not perfect. I have always tried to stress to my children how important good grammer is when writing, but more importantly, when speaking. I’ve tried to encourage them to broaden their vocabulary so that they are never at a loss about how to express themselves and to be able to get their point across. And, most importantly, I read to them constantly! As a result, they love to read and will read books for pleasure and entertainment, as well as to learn something new. I think that is what has helped them the most with their grammer.

    I find I make the most mistakes when I am tired. Not just in writing, but in speaking. I had a strict and hard English teacher when I was a junior in high school. There were days when I thought she was going to break me and make me cry right in the middle of class — she would frustrate me that much! But I’m thankful I had her as my teacher. I was able to take Honors English in college, in part, because of her.

    I always have one window open on my Internet to Websters because spelling is my pet peeve. I make mistakes, too. But if I’m not sure about a word, I check it. It’s not that hard to do. Being able to tell your story or get your point across has to do with more than just good grammer. You have to be able to formulate your ideas in a cohesive manner. And at the same time, some people just make it “too wordy” (as that strict English teacher of mine use to say) for the idea. And I believe when you say, “But I can’t go all the way with Penelope and say that grammar doesn’t matter. After all, it gives us the tools to make sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting,” this may be what you are saying, partially, too. Am I right?

    And, now, I am going to end here, because I am extremely tired and bound to make mistakes (if I haven’t already done so)!

    1. Jim Post author

      I think that it’s wonderful that you’re modeling your values to your children through reading to them! This will plant the seeds of effective communication in them for sure.

  102. Shanna VanNorman

    i could not agree more. really, life is just too freegin’ short. ya, it’s important to put in effort. but everyone has their strengths…I’m not opposed to effort but I am opposed to being overly critical of someone’s mistakes. encouragement, this is the key to success. children (and adults) too often get caught up in ‘i’m not a good writer’ due to the overwhelming amount of ‘constructive criticism’ from parents, parents or peers. we all need to do ourselves a favor and look passed the mistakes, encouraging others’ to partake in life, writing, endeavors whatever tickles their fancy — nothing is ever going to be perfect. besides, who made language and ‘grammar’ anyway, imperfect human beings. enough said.

    Congrats on being pressed, well deserved my fellow communicator.

    Best,

    Shanna

    1. Jim Post author

      Yep, it’s about balance. I also agree with you about encouragement. Smacking someone for breaking the rules is discouraging. Praising people for their ideas and for the places where they expressed them well is much more effective.

  103. Kris O'Connor @Krazy_Kris

    Oh Dear!

    I’m almost afraid to comment. My favorite punctuation is “…”, yet I doubt I’ve been taught how to use it.

    And I’m guessing that ;-) is not punctuation.

    Congratulations on your being freshly pressed – it’s a wonderful, wild ride, eh? My roller coaster zoomed a couple of days ago, and I’m still a bit dazed from the Rod Serling-esque day.

    And yes – I like you – so consider yourself warned. You’ve been “fed”.

    Kris

    http://www.krismoconnor.wordpress.com

    1. Jim Post author

      Thanks for stopping by! In text messages and blog comments, I accept ;-) as punctuation. And critical analysis is a learnable skill.

  104. afroricano

    I agree with what your message is trying to say. In my opinion, a writer needs to have first a good idea then worry about all the rules in literature. What do you think? Say someone knows how to stucture a paragraph really well and has a a bigger vocabulary than dictionary.com but doesnt have an interesting topic or even a passionate idea. What good do all the tools in the world do if you dont have a blueprint or an idea of what your making? But I think its a balance, and if I had to choose one it would be the idea rather than the grammer. I would like to know your opinion.

  105. raisedonvideo

    Jim,

    I’m also an editor (and I’m also named Jim.) I’m all too aware of people’s lack of interest in getting the written word right. I think it’s an alarming trend and an indicator why we’re starting to lag behind other countries in education and standardized testing. I am a self-professed snob about these things and I make no apologies for it. I admit with some shame that I do judge people’s intelligence negatively if they write using poor grammar, spelling, syntax, and punctuation. Not caring is one thing; that’s an individual’s prerogative and no one can change it but that individual. To defend it is ridiculous. I’m glad you made an intelligent defense of good writing. Keep up the good work. I’m going to continue to read your stuff.

    Sincerely,

    Jim

  106. myownideasblog

    I am a South east Asian man from southern Philippines living in Malaysia for 3 decades, I had read Asian writers works and I observed that most common errors in their writings were grammars and spelling of English language. English is second language to us, for it is internationally accepted. Of course Grammar when it comes to English writings are important. Wrong grammar might be missed understood by the readers and would lead to ruin, even how good and interesting the ideas we have in our writings. Same as to with wrong spelling. Misspelled words too, could gone out from the real meaning of the words that writers they supposed to write. Example the “spell” and “spill” although pronunciation is different, but to non- English speakers do pronounce the words the same. Words of seems to be the same actually different are most like to be errors in Asian people. Me too have commit the mistake as what the other Asian people did. And I think even in this comment you will find some of my mistakes. I agree faulty writings is just a mess and readers would not even get an eye on it. Theses are important in formal writing, where it could reflects our character and behavior. Laziness is one thing and carelessness is another. These are reasons why some people commit more faults in writing. I have no comments on informal writings where most of are written in humorously. But One should not be used with kind of writing styles. writing in this way for a longer time might lead us to correct disregard the grammar and spelling. Yet punctuations also very much important in writings. These are the decoration of every language, because readers intonation would base on the punctuations that the writers put on it. Just imagine if sentences have no punctuation. How would you breath while reading a long writings for example. When we don’t put coma to pause, period to stop or the question marks. to ask.

    1. Jim Post author

      Certainly I noticed a few minor mistakes in your comment. None of them prevented me from fully understanding your message! And that’s the beauty of language. It doesn’t have to be perfect to make sense.

  107. buddhalovethinker

    I can’t stand extremely bad grammar. I think it really does say a lot about a person. If someone can’t express their opinions in proper grammar, it makes me doubt whatever credibility they had. I’m not utterly perfect, but if someone can’t use some basic grammar, it’s a complete turn-off.

    I feel like too many people think it’s o.k. to get away with improper grammar, and I really like how you raise this topic. Great post.

  108. Pingback: Grammar Cat Says… « Damn of the Day, My First English Blog

  109. lemonadeandlemoncake

    I have had to step off being a grammar nazi. I’m always making typos and mistakes and not realizing them for 3 days or so. Little idiosyncracies(sp?) matter to me a bit- but if everyone spoke and wrote in perfect grammar we’d be robots. I don’t use perfect grammar on my tumblr, because odds are I’m on my phone and, well, I like to be lazier in that format. It’s important in books and stuff, but tumblr and facebook posts?

    Why does it matter? It’s elitist as hell to be like YOU’RE NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES! GET BACK IN LINE! And sometimes it’s ableist. Remember that people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities will have a harder time realizing their grammar mistakes so to expect them to fix them in time for a GM’s judgmental eyes to see is a bit…well…ridiculous.

    1. Jim Post author

      One thing I’ve learned is that no matter what you do, someone is always willing to say that you could have done it better. I’m not sure what it is about human nature that makes people do that.

  110. lemonadeandlemoncake

    see… I just realized i put GM instead of GN and no, i am not using perfect grammar in this reply. I find most other GNs to be judgmental, because they judge a person by a fucking typo. Like, really? Really? Wow. Okay. You’re awesome.

  111. Thag

    Grammar pedantry says more about the person pointing out the errors than about the skills or intelligence of the writer.

  112. everyjournalist

    If only our readers were so understanding…

    I work the night desk for The Times newspaper in Ottawa, IL. When deadline ticks too close and we’re editing that last bit of copy, we tend to edit for content above grammar at that point. Catch the libel above the typo; fact check above grammar check. But when those grammar errors slip through, our readers are all too happy to point it out on the comment board the next day.

    I believe that good is eventually good enough — especially on deadline — but I also operate under the philosophy to strive for great whenever I can. Not necessarily strive for perfect, but at least be a bit better than good.

    1. Jim Post author

      That’s because your readers have not the first clue about what a miracle it is that the newspaper landed on their front porch that morning. My hat is off to all newspaper editors, who have to be faster than the rest of us.

      1. everyjournalist

        I like to think of a newspaper as a daily miracle. Some nights it feels like we’ll never get through, yet there it is the next morning; and that night, we begin the process all over again. Sometimes it wears you down, but God love it if ain’t one of the most satisfying fields there is (sic).

  113. Deboshree

    Bad grammar is quite a turn off – it’s like smelly shoes or something. But I agree with what your post says. It’s important to first get the content right before worrying your head about grammar rules. Interesting read.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed. :)

    1. Jim Post author

      Yes, when writing, get out what you want to say and then whip it into shape. Trying to do both at the same time leads to internal gridlock!

  114. Samantha Pollack

    The perfectionist in me wants to say that people who think grammar doesn’t matter are the same people who use poor grammar. I do see the point though — saying it’s instead of its doesn’t really change the idea of the sentence. But it does drive me crazy

    I admire you for setting aside your perfectionist ways. And I wonder how those grammatically inept writers of yours got published in the first place?

    Sam

    1. Jim Post author

      Those grammatically inept writers were (allegedly) experts in their fields. I edited technology books, you see. We sought people who knew their stuff and asked them to write books for us, and editorial had to pick up the slack!

  115. 30south

    Good grammar in your mother tongue is one of the foundation elements of an education, paradoxically just look at the complaints from the universities as regards the writing and expression abilities of today’s students, at least in the UK.
    When working in a language other than your mother tongue some errors are inevitable and it is in this context that the need or desire to simply communicate an intent or message may prevail.
    Voila! my ten cents.

  116. Richa

    I agree with your point that grammar matters, but it doesn’t matter if you are able to express your point in an intelligent manner. I would also like to add a point here, that it might not matter much while speaking but it matters a lot while writing, as people might just skip certain things while you are speaking but when you are writing they pay attention.
    So, for me good grammar is an essential thing to have.

    1. Jim Post author

      Hm, you know, I find it easier to skip over things in a written piece. But the bottom line goal is to communicate clearly and in a way that holds your audience’s attention!

  117. Pingback: Defending good grammar, sort of (via Down the Road) « Peter Pan and the Lost Boys

  118. Enn

    The idea is, of course, the most important. But how are you going to make other people understand your ideas, if you don’t know how to correctly say them?

    1. Jim Post author

      I have found that most people can grasp a poorly articulated idea if they try, although they may not like it very much. So could clarity be a courtesy to our audience?

  119. Young dad

    First; holy wow at the amount of comments on this blog.

    I suppose you now have a massively large readership. Perhaps you did before.

    Secondly; just no. Good grammar is necessary. I can’t possibly agree with the woman. There’s nothing more disheartening than reading a piece of prose littered with trash like: He wanted a peace of cake 4 then laughs yet he doesnt feel the pull of existance anymore so he travels to the other realm however when he gets there he meets a man in bright white who takes him to what used to be home when he gets there he….See where I’m going with this. There’s no gray area. Grammar just IS necessary.

    Congrats on the popular blog.

    1. Jim Post author

      I’m shocked, stunned, and amazed by how many comments this post has drawn! Normally I get about 2 comments on an average post. I did not have a massive readership before; a new post usually attracted 20-30 readers. We’ll see what happens now that this post has really hit the big time. I don’t normally write about writing, so I’m wondering how many will stick around when I get back to my usual topics.

      1. Young dad

        Well for your sake I do hope your new readership sticks around and loves your stuff! Congrats on Fresh Press!!

  120. sidewayschef77

    For me, proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and overall structure is important when I write. Now I do agree that over-doing it can erase the overall point of the entire reading. It’s like polishing a car. If you keep polishing and polishing and polishing, eventually the paint is going to wear away and the beauty of the car is gone.

  121. Stealthoneill

    I try my best with grammar, I see it as a service to who ever may read what I write to make it easy, clear and concise so whatever it written is enjoyable and easy to navigate. I’m no professional and am by no means perfect but I have alway thought the effort is worth something, even if it goes a little wrong somewhere.

    When reading I am always drawn out of the experience by a poorly written piece, I can forgive the minor discretions that I myself am prone to making and small spelling errors that happen to everyone (But, in this day and age, spell checkers are everywhere) but if a post, block of writing or blog is littered with errors it comes across as lazy, as if someone has not bothered to check there own work before posting, this then seems like a disservice to any possible reader.

    1. Jim Post author

      I don’t disagree, I’m just saying that the effort should be in line with the nature of what you’re writing. For example, I’m going to submit this reply without rereading or editing it.

      1. Stealthoneill

        Oh yeah, I wouldn’t expect someone to spend an hour rereading something that is a few lines long or is just a simple paragraph quickly written.

        I do think these rules change slightly for writers who are new or who want to learn. I didn’t take much in from school so six years down the line when I decide I want to write something I had no grounding to go from. I learned from scrutinizing everything I was writing, reading all I could get my hands on and eventually -Hopefully- I found a position where I was confident what I was putting down was coherent. Until you have a good knowledge of the language and how it works when on a page you should be looking a lot closer at what you are writing. I still do it today, to a very large degree, I like to ensure I put my point across and, to a point, put myself forward in the best possible way.

        1. Holly Vandervort

          Good point. It really is about putting your best self forward, so it’s an issue of personal pride. And it depends on the setting. Similar to how I dress to the nines for certain business-related activities, but at home or around friends it’s a ponytail and jeans. But I think those who write more develop good grammer skills and it becomes automatic, anyway, even in settings such as this. I don’t proof posts like this either, except maybe to read it over once or twice before hitting the send button. So please forgive any errors ;)

  122. elysianhunter

    Poor grammar as well as poor spelling drive me absolutely nuts. Even so, and despite paying close attention to both, I will readily admit that I am not perfect at either grammar or spelling. I know it’s easy to make errors when one is in a rush or when one is writing in an informal context such as a blog. Those are the “forgivable” errors. I was always taught (perhaps by overly anal English teachers in high school) that the world judges one’s intelligence based upon one’s writing. Following that logic, a person whose grammar and spelling are poor will be seen as being ignorant and poorly educated. Admittedly, I tend to follow that logic, though I see a disturbing trend among the younger set. My 19 year old son and his friends for example, are not ignorant or poorly educated, but everything they write reads like a text message. Not all young people are poor writers, but many of them have never been taught to have an emphasis on grammar and spelling in their writing. I undertstand, I’m old school, but in my mind, grammar is important and spelling counts.

    1. Jim Post author

      Typo immediately forgiven — and I didn’t even notice it until you pointed it out! True, we do generally judge intelligence based on writing. I think grammar is only part of that. I think the brilliance of the writer’s ideas is the other part!

      1. elysianhunter

        Content is the most vital component of good writing. I agree. Bad ideas are still bad ideas even if they are masterfully written, but something gets lost in the transmission of a good idea when it is communicated with bad grammar or poor spelling. Treasured and rare is the writer who presents good content well!

  123. Pingback: Defending good grammar, sort of (via Down the Road) « We Are All Made Of Stars.

  124. Holly Vandervort

    I am a total grammer nerd. Errors stick out to me like a sore thumb, whether it is a work email, personal email, facebook post, blog, or whatever. I’m a writer, so I guess that makes me tuned in. However, I do overlook the errors and keep the irritation to myself. I agree that as long as the point is made clearly, the details don’t matter that much. I might be a grammer nerd, but I’m not a grammer snob. I once made a comment to a forum post and misspelled the word “awful.” I received about twenty comments pointing out the error and no comments on the topic of my post. Now, that’s just ridiculous. And there is a difference between publishing a book with grammatical errors and making a blog comment. Just as our spoken grammer might relax in more casual settings, the same goes for writing, in my opinion.

    1. Stealthoneill

      Facebook seems to be filled with people who lack any knowledge of language, its not their fault and it’s probably because people just quickly type a message out without thinking but I hate to see people misusing ‘There’ and ‘Their’ or ‘You’re’ and ‘Your’. It is a small and sometimes petty thing to pick up on but that’s the way I read things.

      I haven’t ever pointed these things out and, hopefully, never will. Facebook, MySpace and even WordPress is a place for people to express themselves, not to adhere to anyone else’s rules but their own. If that’s the way they write then so be it, if someone asks for advice I would give it but otherwise, as to the original topic, if something is worth reading it really doesn’t matter how bad the grammar is.

  125. moniacal

    Jim, as an English professor at a community college, I appreciated your post. Even as a teacher, I wouldn’t say I’m a Grammar Nazi. However, like you, I believe in hierarchies. When I give my students my grading standards, I tier the grammar errors. The top tier is what I call the BIG FOUR: Run on Sentences, Comma Splices, Sentence Fragments, and Verb Errors (this includes agreement and usage issues). In my second tier comes apostrophe errors, spelling errors (focusing particularly on the commonly confused words – then/than, its/it’s, effect/affect), and capitalization. My third tier is called the “forgivables.” This includes misplaced or missing commas, pronoun errors, and other punctuation errors, such as incorrectly used semicolons.
    I don’t think teachers have to be draconian with their grammar rules because it just turns students off from the writing process. However, I disagree with Ms. Trunk’s thesis that writing should be judged on creativity, ideas, and “enthusiasm.” While I want my students to be creative and enthusiastic, I also want them to have a basic understanding of the building blocks of writing, much of which stems from understanding BASIC grammar. One cannot build a house without a foundation. I tell my students that you have to know the rules before you can break them.
    I think that Ms. Trunk’s appreciation for enthusiasm is part of what is wrong with our country as a whole right now. For too long now, students have been rewarded for simply “trying,” which is not always a bad thing but can lead to an overinflated sense of self and accomplishment that is undeserved. Many of my students have come to college having gotten all A’s in high school English courses, only to then fail miserably in college English. When I ask them if they were graded on grammar, logic, organization, unity, and critical thinking, they say no. Some of them tell me that they earned good grades just for turning the work in. Others tell me that they earned good grades if the essay was long, regardless of the content of the essay. And almost all of them tell me that grammar was not part of their education beyond elementary school.
    Regardless of what we would LIKE people to think of us, at the end of the day, people judge us on our writing. When we send emails peppered with misspellings, run on sentences, fragments, and missing punctuation (missing apostrophes is huge right now!), people make judgments about our intelligence, our attention to detail, or motivation (or lack thereof). It may not be right, but it’s a reality.
    I also liked David’s analogy. I often tell my students to look at their writing like cakes in a bakery, in which the content of the essay is the ingredients on the inside, and the grammar is the icing and decoration on the outside. You might have all the best ingredients in that cake, but if the cake looks like it’s been stepped on, no one will buy that cake regardless of how good the inside might taste. And, again, in terms of image and judgment, no one should want to be seen as the baker who puts out busted-looking cakes!
    I recently read a government report on how much money companies are spending on having to train their employees on how to write proper emails, memos, and presentations. I can see having trainings on diversity, sexual harassment, etc. But, workshops on writing…in the workplace? What a waste of resources! So, our lack of writing skill is also affecting our bottom line. And, in a capitalist country such as the USA, it behooves us to take writing more seriously.

    Check out http://moniacal.wordpress.com/

    1. Jim Post author

      I think your hierarchy of importance makes a lot of sense. It goes from items of clarity to items of annoyance. While I prefer to see annoyance-free writing, I can live with annoyances. It’s harder to live with problems of clarity.

  126. avecelan

    If grammar does not matter, where does it stop? Does spelling matter? Should we all just use the idiotic text speak and abbreviations that teens use? I know several teachers and they tell me that their students try to turn in their homework and essays with text abbreviations instead of proper spelling. That scares me. Is grammar of any form being taught in school anymore?

    1. Frank Lee MeiDere

      I get the students as they come from high school to college and the short answer to your question, “Is grammar of any form being taught in school anymore?” is, “No.”

      The long answer is, “Hell, no!”

    2. Jim Post author

      Grammar, spelling, and punctuation matter. How much they matter depends on what you’re writing and who the audience is. That’s all I’m trying to say.

  127. randomgirl3814

    Your post here can only be described as one word in our own language: “Tama!”

    It means correct in English, so there.

    Also, in my opinion, well maybe the reason why some people enjoy correcting other people’s grammar, or other people’s minds, is that they find it enjoying. They find it intellectually stimulating because it makes them feel and think smarter. In simpler terms, it is like a hobby to them.

    (Correct me if I’m wrong, or if it is mentioned there in the blog entry. Hmm, even I want to be corrected.)

    1. Jim Post author

      “Tama” — I like it! Thanks! And yes, many who correct others’ writing do it because it makes them feel superior.

  128. wolfsrosebud

    Just wondering if you are still excited about being “Freshly Pressed” after all the replies you needed to answer? LOL..

    I’m an author, taught writing classes to children, and struggle with grammar and spelling myself. Thanks for revealing the importance of creativity. I think there is a hidden writer in every person.

    1. Jim Post author

      I do have a personal policy here of responding to (almost) every comment. I have skipped a few. But yes, I am questioning the wisdom of it today!!

      My father loves to tell stories, and does so orally very well. But when he stops to write them, they lose all their verve. He is too self-conscious about writing. He also replaces his perfectly good simple words from the oral story with bigger words that make his writing stilted. So maybe he’s a diamond in the rough?

  129. seppdelaney

    I agree with both you and Penelope. The most important thing to remember when writing is that you’re trying to get your point across. But consider Picasso. His cubist period came after he had already mastered life-like drawings. Once one masters the basics, they should be free to experiment and be creative with their medium. EE Cummings’ poetry plays with words, but I am certain that he could write a “normal” sentence using correct syntax.
    So, while it is important to get the ideas across, they’ve got to be clear. Using correct grammar and correct spelling helps to clarify.

  130. drunkkenartist

    When I first read this my heart sank as I thought I was so out of my league. I have always considered myself a spelling Nazi if not a grammar Nazi only to find after reading this that I may be a mere amateur. There is a time and a place for everything. Blogging may not be the place. But I don’t care. One should always make an effort; I won’t even let a text go out unless everything is spelled correctly. Granted there is artistic license and conversational speech which I feel blogging falls under, but there is also spell check. I am so glad I read this blog this morning as it has inspired me to continue reading other blogs on writing taking time to brush up my my skills. Thank you for posting.

    1. Jim Post author

      I have to admit, I can’t let a piece of my own writing go out if it has spelling errors, too. Once in a while I’ll update my Facebook status, notice a typo, delete it, and rewrite it. So I’m breaking my own rules here.

  131. 40 Pounds by June

    Wonderful post, Jim. My three cents:
    I was a college professor in my previous life and I saw things that made me wonder how my students were able to graduate. I was not an English professor, mind you. My students were so fearful of writing because of the rules. I finally had to convince them that they were COMMUNICATING and to forget the damn rules, just get the ideas down. Talk into a tape recorder, if you have to. Then get the help to fix it.
    A good friend of mine is a freelance editor of twenty years. She has saved my red face more than once! On the other hand, she is one of those perfectionists and could not take the editing work she had with a popular web content company. Almost every day I would get a gripe-call from her. I think the article about milking a cow, and the oft-dotted use of HE as the pronoun for the cow, really threw her over the edge!
    My Dad always said, “Know the rules of grammar, THEN you can break them.” He was a very talented writer. Blog writing is new for me. It seems to be much more conversational, as is much of web content writing today. Not as many rules? I’m trying to straddle good writing with a much more relaxed form.
    Sorry for the length — got alot to say this morning! I’m subscribing today. I look forward to reading more.
    Colleen

    1. Jim Post author

      I know how it is to fear writing because of the rules. I suffered from that through college. It wasn’t until I ended up in my first post-college job as a technical writer that I loosened up, because I had to or I would never have survived! Thank you for subscribing!

  132. Margo Karolyi

    I would be happy (or at least, happier) if people would simply (re)learn how to capitalize, punctuate, forgo IM/texting shortforms, and proofread for readability. Unfortunately, the education system (here in Canada, anyway) has stopped teaching the basics of spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, and meaning in writing. Good writing is becoming a lost art.

    For over thirty years I watched, helpless, as College students’ writing skills became weaker and weaker. In the last three years of my teaching career, I was charged with developing and teaching a course in ‘Business Writing’ – a skill that the students didn’t seem to think was valuable or important to master. You can imagine my frustration at reading business plans about ‘the nead to get costumers to by producks’ (translation: ‘the need to get customers to buy products’).

    No matter the level of writing, if people just followed one simple ‘rule’, their writing would improve dramatically => read what you write OUT LOUD! It is very easy to catch misspelled words, improperly-positioned punctuation, fragmented and/or run-on sentences, and garbled meaning if you can’t read it yourself.

    As a (now) full time writer, I try NOT to obsess over every sentence or punctuation mark, but there is – in my opinion – no excuse for deliberate sloppiness just because your word processor has a tool that (supposedly) checks spelling and grammar. Good (not necessarily perfect) grammar is still very important if you want your reader to understand what you write, and to appreciate what you have to say. And, as with most skills one needs in order to become successful, practice makes perfect!

  133. dannyjazzy1

    I agree with post, and I like your insight on grammar. The internet is a place where everyone’s grammatical standing is completely different. I also believe that grammar is very important, but if there is a comma forgotten or an apostrophe put where it’s not supposed to be, it’s not the end of the world.
    Another thing to think about is perception, and how different languages have different grammar rules, which means that people from different countries, and even different cities would have different grammar than some people. And, of course, education comes into play, as well as what you mentioned: the purpose of the message being sent. In my opinion, grammar is not as highly regarded as it used to be in schools.

  134. Lex

    But here’s the unappreciated beauty of knowing correct grammar and spelling: The better you know the rules, the more creativity, power and impact your writing can have when you break the rules intentionally. Beethoven could be Beethoven not JUST because he was gifted but ALSO because he’d first studied Bach and Haydn.

  135. Andy

    “Penelope also condemns impeccable grammar as the product of “demented, perfectionist thinking.” As a recovering perfectionist, I can say with some authority that for most tasks, perfection is at best a waste of time and at worst pathological. Anything you do can always be done better, but past some point the effort to make it better isn’t worth the return. Unless you’re disarming a bomb, good enough is just right.”
    This… this part really hit me. Thanks for your insightful advice and thoughts, I will keep them in mind when writing my next piece.

  136. Maureen

    As an editor myself, I really agree with your points. It irks me when people dismiss good grammar, spelling, and punctuation as a waste of time, but you make an excellent case for a balanced approach. If I could add anything the conversation, I’d say I hope people will cease to view editors as anal perfectionists–personally, when I’m editing I always try to preserve the author’s voice while smoothing out rough patches, I’m not out to nit-pick him or her to death. :)

    And kudos on being freshly pressed!

  137. playerpianosara

    I agree that it’s not so important in e-mails or casual writing, but I feel that how a person writes definitely says something about him/her.

    If I saw spelling errors (really any errors) on a resume, I would not be as interested. I feel with something like a resume where you are selling yourself, if you can’t get that perfect then how much do you really care about the job? Before I sent out a cover letter or resume I made sure every sentece perfect because I cared a lot about making the best impression.
    If it’s just a blog comment, such as this one, I’ll give it a once over because it’s casual and what’s important is the meaning of what I’m saying.

    1. Jim Post author

      I am a manager at the company where I work, and so I see a lot of resumes. For the jobs I hire — mostly software testers — I’m not daunted by misspellings in resumes if the skills look good.

  138. Tori Nelson

    I recently wrote on the dangers of abusing “hard” words, but I am right with you on the grammar aspect of writing. If anything, proper grammar is key to getting your point across!
    Great post & congrats on being Freshly Pressed.
    -Tori@TheRamblings

  139. Nor

    I stumble and frequently fall, not wanting to reach for the dictionary (or press the appropriate key) for fear of interrupting my “flow”. Thanks for the reminder to slow down and reinforce the barriers. I love to write but I don’t want to be sloppy about it. Both sides of the argument, as you set it out, have merit. And now I have to head downstairs and let in my cat–it’s cold up here in Canada!

    http://bit/ly/b5dU8k

  140. cormac

    “The implication is that as long as they can get their ideas across, the grammar (and, by extension, punctuation and spelling) isn’t all that important”
    ..but that’s the problem isn’t it? Poor grammar makes it that much harder to understand what is being said. It’s amazing how many writers do not understand that it is quite difficult to state clearly what one means – and fail to see how a sentence can be read to mean something completely different to that intended.
    I see grammar as a courtesy to the reader – if you’re going to be ambiguous why write at all?

    1. Jim Post author

      True, but it all starts with the writer having learned the foundations of grammar at some point. I don’t see this being taught in schools anymore.

  141. mjwrightnz

    I’d be inclined to agree with Jim. While in some senses, impeccable grammar smacks of the perfectionist, it’s also there for a reason, and to me it’s as much a part of the quality of the written work as the concepts and ideas of the material being written.

    The fundamental issue, of course, is what is ‘correct’ – English is an evolving and complex language, and the mechanism for that evolution comes from rule-breaking. The problem – as one of the commenters here observes – is knowing the rules first. I write grammar standards (and enforce them) for my ‘day job'; I hire proof-readers and vet their stuff. The material I’m editing is written by authors who – partly because of the nature of the content – fall directly into every difficult grammar trap imaginable. Usually to do with tenses. They also imagine that knowing the rules of grammar and quality writing are one and the same thing.

    I’m not saying this from a theoretical perspective. Evenings and weekends, I write books, so I’m familiar with the other side of the equation. Out of a sense of professional schtik I make sure my own stuff is as clean as possible before getting to the publisher. A lot of authors don’t. And one of the frustrations I have is where the proof-editor (inevitably, someone with the same skill-set as mine) then re-writes my text anyway, often to the point of altering the intended writing style and often, with that, the meaning.

    I ended up having to undo a lot of the changes made to my last book, where the proof-editor (who was an experienced professional – don’t get me wrong) insisted on creating a lot of neologisms via use of hyphens. English is an evolving language, but I’d rather not have people put me on the bleeding edge of it, and it was a cost to me and a cost to my publishers. They wore it.

    What I’m getting at is that there are balances throughout; differing skill-sets among authors and proof-editors, and to me, ultimately it’s a matter of applying reason – and, of course, working within the cost-parameters applied by publishers. All of which is a fair distance from the creative side of writing – but the whole, to me at least, reflects differing aspects of the much larger creative process of going from germ of idea to final published work.

    Matthew Wright

    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com

    wwww.matthewwright.net

  142. managermamma

    I know someone who can’t spell and hardly knows what grammar is, both when she writes and when she talks…she’s American. Here in Italy grammar is very important, heaven forbid a newspaper or magazine should publish wrong grammar or spelling…they’ll be bombarded by reader’s letters, and they might even end up on Striscia la Notizia, a TV show which specializes in gaffes, mistakes and swindles:)

  143. Little Explorer

    I think that using correct grammar should be natural, not something that requires a special effort. Obviously this depends on educational and family background, however nowadays it seems like often people are too lazy to make the tiniest effort in writing using proper grammar even if they are perfectly aware of what is right / wrong. I mean…why write “its” when you should be writing “it’s”?? In my opinion, this is a form of ‘disrespect’ to the reader… it is a bit like saying “I don’t care if you understand my message or not “. So, why bother writing it and sending it in the first place??!

    I believe that once you dismiss the need to apply correct grammar to writing, you will inadvertently and gradually forget all about it over time.

    By the way, I am not claiming my grammar is perfect, but I try my best!
    Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed!

    http://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/

    1. Jim Post author

      I hope every writer tries his or her best — but doesn’t kill themselves trying for perfection if the thing they’ve written doesn’t warrant it.

      1. Little Explorer

        A whole debate could start as to ‘who is a writer’… most people probably believe that writing an email or text message does not require effort for the precise reason that they are not ‘writers’…I think using proper grammar has absolutely nothing to do with what and why you’re writing. Of course, a ‘writer’ in the strict sense should strive for perfection unlike ‘writers’ in the broadest sense who surely should not ‘kill themselves’!

  144. cmcswain

    This was great! Especially since no matter how hard I try, and I really, really try, one mistake always slips through, without fail. I used to write policy reports, and my rule was to never look at them once they were published, because I would, without fail, find a mistake and beat myself up over it. Thanks for being the voice of non-perfectionist reason.

    1. Jim Post author

      Oh yes, the don’t-look-at-it-after-it’s-published rule is a good one. I always find that mistake or opportunity for improvement then, too.

  145. connetta

    With so many comments, i doubt if you have time for mine.But just in case. I want to say that if all writers made no mistakes, we would not need Editors to fix them. Thank God for Editors and people willing to speek out like you do , so we can continue to learn.

    1. Jim Post author

      Hello, haven’t heard from you in a long time! It’s been a lot of work keeping up with all the comments, but I do like to reply to everyone who writes in.

  146. rft3

    I found your hierarchy for editing to be very efficient. What was interesting to me was logic and syntax & style actually came before spelling, grammar and punctuation. This works because, as you said, the overall communication and brilliance of the idea is most important.
    I also admire that you state a certain balance of caring about your writing piece, but at the same time – don’t go crazy trying to make it absolutely perfect. This mindset can be applied to a lot of things in life.

    “Unless you’re disarming a bomb, good enough is just right”.
    I’ve been there before. Luckily I cut the right wire with 4 seconds to spare.

    Great post!

    -rft3

    http://rft3.wordpress.com/

  147. Sevvy

    I agree with you for the most part. If you’re just writing to your friends, than a slip here and there isn’t something to beat yourself up over (though I try to fix my mistakes even with friends, because I’m a writer and practice makes perfect-ish). But if you’re writing something to be read by a larger audience, such as books or articles for publication, I think you should sweat the grammar and spelling. Making sure your writing is as good as it can be shows the writer cared about the work, and cared about making it as easy and accessible as possible for others. When I read something that has a lot of spelling or grammatical errors in it, I also start to doubt the quality of the information being presented. If the writer couldn’t be bothered to edit their piece, do I believe they bothered to do adequate research on the rest of their topic? Doubtful. Good grammar and spelling in published writing is a sign of trust between the writer and reader, and shows me that they cared enough about their ideas that they were willing to go the extra mile and make their piece shine.

    1. Jim Post author

      As someone who once exchanged words for money, I hear you. I’ve tried, however, over the years to relax a bit when I read someone’s occasionally grammar-challenged writing. I realize that writing well takes a lot of practice, and most people haven’t devoted that kind of time to it.

  148. Evan VanDerwerker

    I had a teacher at Virginia Tech over the last semester that urged us to turn off our spellchecker and other grammar-related tools when we write. He believed that they stop the thought process, and the incessant need to have perfect comma use and margins bestowed upon students by teachers is unnecessary and hinders the true purpose of writing.

    I wrote a post in my blog a few weeks ago that describes how important writing is. It does not posit direct responses to this post, but it will be of interest to some of you! Check it out at http://eyeoneducation.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/leave-writing-to-the-writer/

    Do not forget to subscribe!
    EV

    http://eyeoneducation.wordpress.com/

    1. Jim Post author

      I wish a multi-step writing process were taught, one where you get your ideas out first, and then you make multiple passes through to improve it along the lines of my levels of edit. I think this would free people from perfection paralysis.

  149. Martin Cooper

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. In the grand scheme of things grammar does not rate very highly – somewhere between boiling the breakfast egg for exactly three minutes and wearing socks the same colour as your shoes – and to correct other people’s grammar when you are not being paid to do so is pedantic.

    But…

    All this is after the event. The piece has already been written. To say to someone before they start their story/novel/article “don’t worry about bad grammar” is to say “don’t worry, second rate will do”. And it won’t. A writer’s reach should exceed his (or her) grasp, or what are Penguin Modern Classics for?

    1. Jim Post author

      I think the point here is to help writers not be paralyzed by fear of making a grammar mistake, not that they shouldn’t learn to write well.

  150. Aaron

    I’ve been trying to improve my writing skills over time, but it can be extremely complicated when English isn’t your first language. I have to know two languages, English and Spanish because I do a lot of translating for family and friends that don’t know English very well.
    In my job’s resume I had a few grammatical mistakes but the employer knew English wasn’t my first language but I was still able to communicate and I got the job.

    Of course this job isn’t a dream job, but it brings in some money, I work in a small WebHosting company online, which is growing steadily, it’s my part time job. The economy isn’t the best right now, I was laid off my normal job at Walmart, which of course isn’t a good job either but both jobs together brought in plenty of money.

    1. Jim Post author

      I understand — I speak German, and when I was younger (and was much, much closer to fluent than I am now) I struggled to get my thoughts across in written German with the same clarity and nuance that I could achieve so effortlessly in English. I believe it is possible to get there in a language that’s not your own — but it takes dedication and lots of practice.

  151. mashgula

    Good post.
    I’m Chilean and I usually read the news online and in some Chilean websites you can finds tons of spelling mistakes because their aim is to beat their competitors instead of giving the readers a responsible and good report of what has happened. I even wrote about it once http://tweetook.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/contrarreloj/ –too bad it’s in Spanish but if someone wants to give it a try, you’re welcome to visit my blog anytime.
    Merry x’mas!

    1. Jim Post author

      Sometimes, it’s important to publish rapidly — such as when critical news breaks. It’s easy to forgive typos then! But it’s less easy to forgive factual errors. A mistake the news media make in the US now is to report hearsay or unconfirmed information without identifying it as such.

      1. mashgula

        I agree with the rapid publishing thing. I have friends who are jounalists and we have talked about this a couple of times, but it still bothers me to see those typos because I think it’s disrespectful, and because their argument is that they are in a hurry and need to publish quickly– quicker than their competitors. What about us, the readers? It seems that they don’t care about us, but just aboyt being the first ones to publish.
        Also, I agree with the last part of your post. I have also seen that kind of news and I think that’s much worse than any typo or poor grammar. If that’s the case, then I forgive any kind of typo!
        (Actually, my earlier post had a typo that can count as poor grammar. Sorry about that.)

    2. michaeleriksson

      Of course, there are two important question to answer with regard to rapid publishing:

      1. Is the gain from publishing a story now instead of in twenty minutes, after a run-through by a professional editor, really large enough to justify the damage done by alienating readers?

      2. If we do publish now, is there any reason to not proof-read and correct after the original publishing?

      It seems that many modern newspapers answer both questions with a “yes”. My take, however, is that 2. should be met with a resounding “no”, while 1. is no more than a “sometimes” or “depends on the exact situation”.

      1. Jim Post author

        Your point 1 assumes that editors are idling, waiting for something to edit. My experience has been that editors are a critically constrained resource — never enough of them to go around. So critical stories would sit in queue awaiting an editor.

        However, I do like the idea of publishing quickly and editing later.

        1. michaeleriksson

          You make a good counter-point to 1.; however, there are also many cases where even proof-reading by an unpaid intern would help or, insane as it may sound, it is clear that the author did not even run an automatic spell-checker on his text… In other words: Not having timely access to an editor is a valid scenario for which we should have some understanding. Failure to use what is available, however, is a different story.

        2. mashgula

          I know that editors are not idling but seems that newspapers need more that one or two in order to avoid publishing without editing. I’m sure they all do their job the best way possible, but I can’t really accept mistakes when the excuse is “there’s not enough time”. I teach and I try to do my best in teaching, and I just cannot imagine myself saying that I couldn’t do a good job because of any reason that is not as serious as “we don’t have any resouces: no books, no computers, no audio files– nothing!”. And is that’s the case I should be able to find a way to teach and do it right.
          Maybe I’m a perfectionist, and that’s too bad for journalists and editors who don’t mind if what they publish has a mistake in it.

          Anyway, we all agree that poor grammar can’t be accepted as Penelope Trunk said :)
          Happy new year!

  152. Pingback: The most important reason for using good grammar. | Muse around.

  153. HaleyWhitehall

    I love this post! I know a lot of people who are “grammaticality challenged.” Sometimes this is brought on by dyslexia or other learning disabilities. Being able to spell correctly and know the difference between then and than is not really important. You are totally right it is the ideas that count! I wish more people felt the same way. And as isylumn pointed out many published books are full of errors. Obviously everyone needs to try their best to get their grammar and spelling correct, but it doesn’t come easy to a lot of people and that has nothing to do with their intelligence. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  154. Evan VanDerwerker

    In response to what HaleyWhitehall said, with the exception of learning disabilities there is no excuse to not know the difference between “then” and “than.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree wholeheartedly with this post, but I feel as if you are misunderstanding the message. The idea is not to ignore grammar, but to prioritize content. The purpose of grammar is to make media universally understood. Needless to say, it is somewhat important. The problem, though, is that people are too nit-picky about scrupulous details that do not hinder understanding; however, this point is not to say that that we should not be doing our best to teach perfect grammar and, thus, have it perpetuated globally. Ultimately, this post is not exemplifying an excuse to not do your grammar homework.

    I am not trying to seem argumentative. I will be the first to tell you that I have a long way to go in the grammar department. Check out a post I did about the topic (http://eyeoneducation.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/good-grammar-might-be-a-bad-thing/).

    -EV

    1. Jim Post author

      I can think of several excellent thinkers who couldn’t write a coherent sentence. I went to engineering school with several. They have gone on to excellent success in industry.

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