It’s hardly a new concern, but we aren’t talking about it enough.
But I’m worried that the casual nature of online media is destroying this core value. I see it in students’ classwork, and most certainly in their emails. I see it in professionals’ work, too. Careless writing is everywhere.
But too many of them — in the process of becoming bloggers — bypassed our core value of clear, concise, correct writing. I found a slew of spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage errors –errors not common to their more traditional, on-paper assignments.
To be fair, the blogs won’t be graded for a few more weeks, so there’s time to edit and proofread. Not so when you post “for real.” You click “publish,” and your post is out there, warts and all. So you need to get it right the first time.
It’s not just our students whose blogs contain grammar and punctuation gaffs. I routinely find errors in the works of A-listers in PR and marketing, fields in which clear and correct writing is fundamental.
One blogger on social media (whose book we require in our Online class) says mistakes in blog posts actually lend authenticity to the message. I agree with Shel Israel on most things, but I can’t rationalize carelessness by saying typos enhance credibility — at least not without some research to back it up.
Can you achieve breezy, conversational style without soiling the language? Of course. You simply write as you speak. Then you edit, you polish and you proofread. It takes more time, but it’s what professionals who write for a living do.
I can criticize other bloggers for sloppy writing, but nothing will change. But if I flunk my students for the same offense, at least I can clean up my little corner of the world.
I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll bet there’s a mistake in this post. I’m gonna find it, and I’m gonna nail his ass.”
You won’t be the first to find an error on this site. Self-editing is a bitch, and I struggle with it daily. But I’m betting you won’t find spelling errors, subject-verb disagreement, or commas inserted for no apparent reason. And nowhere will you find periods and commas outside quotation marks, an error so common in the blogosphere that I wonder if anyone teaches the rule anymore. (Thank you Dan Santow for reinforcing it.)
We all know writing quality is in decline just about everywhere, and that’s a shame. But it presents an opportunity for you and me, since we can do it. We’re professionals, right?
But you can’t turn good writing on and off, or at least you shouldn’t. To stay sharp, you should write well all the time. (I exclude text messages from this rule, since that medium has its own little code.)
If you’ve come this far, you deserve a treat. So enjoy Michael O’Donoghue’s classic essay, “How to Write Good.” Things were funnier in 1971, but I can’t remember why.