“Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.”
I confess, I’m that person who yells at my computer screen/newspaper/television set when I see a grammatical error/spelling mistake. Yes, I look like a lunatic when doing so, but trust me when I say that I am not alone. And if things don’t start to change, my grammar freak friends and I might have to start a support group.
When I was a young whipper-snapper clawing my way to the (almost) top in TV land, I had one thing drilled into my head over and over and over again: edit your work! There is no sicker feeling than seeing your graphic or title blow by during prime time with an error in it. Hundreds of thousands of people just saw that same error, including your executive producer – and most likely their executive producer! Believe me, it happened once, and it never happened again.
I’m glad that I had that training (even though it turned me into a crazy person), because lately it feels like we’re slipping back to quantity over quality. And it is possible to have both.
Typos Cost Money
If you don’t think editorial errors equal lost revenue – think again. In a recent article, Marketing Profs shared a fascinating tidbit from the UK – after a spelling error was corrected at tightsplease.co.uk, the online retailer’s revenue per visitor doubled. In this case shoddy editorial clearly registered, consciously or not, as the potential for shoddy business practices.
The odd typo happens. People aren’t robots. And when blogging or otherwise writing online there is wiggle room for unique sentence structure, turn of phrase, and the use of vernacular. Anyone who reads my writing knows two things – I write as I speak, and I’m a huge fan of the em dash – some people love ‘em, and some people hate ‘em. For me, and my style, they just work.
Go Ahead And Break The Rules
I’m not talking about the hard and fast rules of grammar here either. I love reading work that sounds like natural conversation. So I don’t care if you’ve left a participle dangling, as long as it works. And I’m not kvetching about creative story telling, such as injecting life, spirit or playfulness into a piece using odd punctuation, or inserting brackets where the CP/AP stylebook would tell you you shouldn’t. If it’s done right, the reader will get it and it won’t feel wrong.
I’m talking about publishing work that contains glaring errors, incorrect word usage, and incomprehensible sentence structure.
Love Your Editor
For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure (and agony) of working with a good proofreader/editor, and for those of you who have, yet fought against every question or suggestion, here’s a brief rundown of what editors bring to the table, and why they are so important:
- An experienced editor understands that everything has a voice, and whether you’re writing for a brand, magazine, newspaper or corporate blog, he/she will a) know that voice intimately and b) ensure continuity of that voice. This is extremely important as your most loyal customers/readers will be expecting consistent, quality content. They won’t appreciate The National Enquirer if they are expecting The New York Times.
- Editors watch out for the basics such as awkward run-on sentences, grammatical and spelling errors and other run of the mill writing issues. But they also look for the overall structure of the piece, such as flow and readability. You might have buried the lead, mixed metaphors, or your third paragraph might be more suitable as your opener. Yes, your work might be changed, and if you can’t deal with that you shouldn’t be writing.
- They keep their eyes peeled for accuracy, fairness, redundancy and taste. Your editor will either fact check your work, or ask you to provide links to quoted articles, etc.. Of course, your work should already have been checked and rechecked prior to submitting it to your editor. Pay special attention to people’s names and titles.
- Understand that an editor’s goal is to protect the writer (you) and by extension, the project or organization. A good editor will read through the eyes of their audience, and will never assume that that audience knows what you’re talking about. So, if you make a big, bold, sweeping statement, expect to be challenged on it and be prepared to back it up with statistics/proof. If you can’t back it up, it shouldn’t be published.
Shine Like A Diamond
The bottom line is this. If you’re lucky enough to have access to an editor, work with, not against them. Don’t take every request for a rewrite or call for clarification personally. If you’re working on your own, the same guidelines apply. Edit, edit, edit. One surefire way to check your own work for spelling errors is to read it from the bottom up. Also, search online – ProBlogger and Grammar Girl are two (among many) sites that provide tons of tips to help you be your own editor.
It’s been said that writing enters the proofreading and editing phase as a lump of coal and then comes out a diamond. Take pity on people like myself, who yell at inanimate objects, and make yours sparkle with brilliance.
Note: If you find an error in this piece, go easy on me. See above re: human versus robot.
Have any self-editing tips to share? Do incomprehensible sentences and blatant errors drive you batty? Do you think it matters? Please let me know, below.