Fixing online communication one post at a time
Someone should step up and rip the blogosphere a new one. Someone should tell the millions of bloggers, plus the tweeters and Facebookers, that good writing still matters. Those who work in communication-related fields should pay special heed.
But I’ll warn you: It won’t change a thing.
I’ve ranted on the bad writing in this space for nearly 3 years, and I’ve done it in classrooms for more than 2 decades. Posts about writing always draw traffic and comments, but with each post I am preaching to the converted.
Bless all of you who still care about good writing. Your numbers are dwindling.
I know. Blogs and tweets are a “conversation,” and conversations don’t operate on perfect grammar and syntax. Some bloggers, including one who inspired me to start this site, insist that typos and grammatical errors lend authenticity to the message. Besides, another blogger told me, if you spend too much time wordsmithing the message, it’s no longer immediate — and sometimes no longer of value.
Both of those bloggers are fine writers. But they view the medium differently than I. They see only the conversation, and they don’t get all anal about polishing the message.
So what’s my problem? I’m an educator who teaches communication strategy and techniques, so I carry the burden of role model. Yeah, you’ll see typos in this blog on occasion — even though I probably read each post 5-6 times before I publish it. Self editing is a bitch. But it’s something my students expect of me, and I of them.
That’s not funny, that’s sic!
Nope. That’s not a typo. The notation “sic” indicates that “a word or phrase in a quoted passage is reproduced as it appeared in the original passage,” and “ to aid readers who might be confused about whether the quoter or the quoted writer is responsible for the spelling or grammatical anomaly.” (AskOxford.com)
While reviewing a student’s paper the other day, I noted some 4-5 quotes from prominent PR/marcom bloggers, each containing errors in grammar, usage and punctuation. Those errors, I told the student, should be noted with “sic.” But if you do that, I said, anyone reading your paper is sure to question the validity of your sources. I mean, what’s wrong with these people?
Don’t these people have editors?
Nope. Nearly every blog is self edited, and most are hastily posted. A polished blog post is rare. Imprecise and incorrect use of language is pretty much the rule.
To be fair, most bloggers don’t spend hours each week evaluating the writing of college students. They haven’t watched, as I have for more than two decades, the decay of writing skills across the board. The shift to abbreviated online communications contributes to this problem, but I saw it coming long before email or text messaging. Television helped dumb down writing (including Big Bird). Ditto for video games and other pastimes that lure our kids away from reading.
Ask most college students what book they’re reading and you’re likely to get a blank stare. Most don’t read books unless required, and even then they don’t read carefully. They seem to lack the discipline. As any writing coach will tell you, you learn to write well by reading.
Call this a rant from an aging Baby Boomer if you must, but there’s nothing positive about bad writing. Nothing. It calls into question the writer’s credibility and his intelligence.
I should probably just let this issue go, crack open a beer and say, “F#%* it.” But I can’t. I just can’t.
* Headline for this post is inspired by Michael O’Donaghue’s classic essay, “How to Write Good.” It appeared in National Lampoon in 1973. The essay seemed funny back then, but we may be hard-pressed to find anyone who’ll read it today. It’s over 4,000 words! Hell, we might as well assign War and Peace.