Sunday, December 17

The Importance of Grammar And Punctuation

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The Importance of Proper Grammar and Punctuation

Following rules when it comes to written material has become increasingly uncommon in America today.  Errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice are proliferating. Some of these errors are due to the writer having a native language other than English. For them, I thank you for attempting to learn another language and I am willing to help you any way I can to get it right. For the rest of you, pay attention. This is important. If you send me a resume that is loaded with grammatical errors and improper use of punctuation you are not going to get an interview, much less a job.

The common practice of sending texts from a cell phone has caused some of these errors. When you type a message using a cell phone keypad it is a real pain to follow all the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Capital letters are generally ignored. Something as simple and useful as a comma can be difficult to find on your phone, so hardly anybody bothers with punctuation. That is understandable, and it is acceptable in that context. In a business document, however, “lol” and “brb” are not acceptable. Too many people, even in business settings, have decided that it is not necessary to follow the rules of grammar when writing an email. An email sent from a company account is a company document. It will most certainly be stored somewhere even if you and the recipient delete it. That message is subject to subpoena in the event the company has legal problems. It may also be available for executives to examine when you are being considered for a promotion.

Check your spelling and proofread any document. Better still, get somebody else to check for errors. Often when you make a mistake you will not catch it yourself. Write in complete sentences. Capitalize the first letter of a sentence. Do it every time. Do not, think, that commas, are a really good thing, and that more, must be better. Do not depend on a computerized spell checker. The computer does not know that you meant to say “show” when you wrote “snow”. It just knows that “snow” is an acceptable word and it is spelled correctly.

If you are certain about the meaning of a word, either look it up or choose another word. For example, if you want to say that a particular statue adds to the overall appearance of a park, you could say the statue “complements” the other elements of the park. It would be grossly incorrect to say the statue “compliments” the rest of the park, as it appeared in my local newspaper a while back. That would mean the statue is saying, “Hello there trees and grass. You are all looking really good today.” Statues rarely say things like that.

Do not attempt to show off your erudition by using words you hope will impress the reader. For example, do not say you are “reticent” when you mean “reluctant”. “Reticent” means speaking only a little or not at all when it comes to revealing your thoughts or feelings.   

Another word a lot of people seem to have trouble is a very simple word, “lose”. Too many people insist on spelling it “loose”. You may lose your keys but you will never loose them. This is another error that a spell checker will not catch. There are a lot of errors of this type. “It’s” means “it is”. If you want a possessive term, use “its”.

Some of the disturbing trends in modern writing are the result of a poor educational system. Students are promoted to the next level whether they have mastered the material in their current class or not. Far too many entering college freshmen have to take remedial courses because they lack basic writing skills. Part of the problem with getting people, especially young people, to use words properly and to use correct grammar and punctuation is the nature of modern communication. We send messages electronically at the speed of light. When it comes to text messages from a cell phone or “tweets” (using Twitter, which limits a message to 140 characters) it is reasonable to eliminate punctuation whenever possible. The habit does tend to carry over into other forms of written communication. The other part of the problem is laziness. Some people seem to believe their personal freedom is somehow being limited if they are expected to follow established rules for written works. Keep your freedom if you wish, but if you aim for a position higher than janitor do not send me a cover letter that resembles a tweet.

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