By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International
Takeaways: Spelling and grammar are important. Computers and texting have changed how we communicate. We’re raising a generation of people who don’t spell or use proper sentence construction and think it’s OK.
Remember the IBM Selectric or the portable typewriter? Those of us who remember typewriters learned to add two spaces after every period and to hit the return key at the end of a line to prevent the typewriter from running off the right side of the page. Remember that? Or are you among the generation who is saying “what’s a typewriter?” The personal computer with its ability to wrap text onto the next line changed all that. It also changed the need to add two spaces after the period. In fact, that is now considered “old school” and incorrect, but I still see this issue cropping up.
Other punctuation errors I see all the time are highlighted in this article on the Kaye/Bassman blog (www.kbic.com), “17 Punctuation Mistakes That Can Make You Look Really Bad.”
It’s not that I’m perfect, but in my early days I was a journalist; and then I worked at a newspaper where the written word and how it’s used is a critical form of communication. I was always a good speller and learned to proofread so errors just jump out at me.
While I love technology and all the functionality it brings, I’m bothered by the new culture I see around me. Smart phone apps and texting are creating an entire generation that has not learned the art of communication – either face-to-face or in writing. They gather together and instead of talking with one another, they text. And they’re sitting side-by-side!
Texting is a great tool. It’s a way to quickly let someone know where you are or to communicate an important or friendly message. Because it’s usually done on a phone, it lends itself to shortcuts. Consequently, an entire new alphabet has emerged for texting. But you don’t use this language in business communication…not if you want to be understood by your peers and your superiors. Yet, some of these texting words show up in papers, memos and emails and on discussion forums.
When do you use she and I or me and her?
I hear this misused all the time, especially on television. Surely the writers know the construction is wrong. You don’t say “me” went to the store. It’s “I” went to the store. Yet somehow the TV writers think it’s fine to say “me and him” or even “him and me” went to the store, when clearly it’s not proper usage. This is one of my pet peeves because television is teaching incorrect grammar.
When do you use “its” versus “it’s”, for example, or “theirs” versus “there’s”? One of the secrets I learned in high school is to convert the abbreviation to “it is”. If it still makes sense in the sentence, then the correct form is “it’s”. “Its” is possessive as in “The cat played with its toy.” You wouldn’t say “The cat played with it is toy.” On the other hand, “It’s cold outside” can also be converted to “It is cold outside” and still make sense.
Theirs and there’s are more difficult is grammar and spelling are not your forté. Theirs is plural possessive as in “the toy is theirs.” “There’s” can be converted to “there is” and if the sentence still makes sense when you say “there is”, then you can also use the conjunction “there’s” as in the Beatles song, “There’s a place”.
Texting has taught us to write in incomplete sentences in the interest of keeping our thumbs from getting too worn out from typing. I even find myself doing this sometimes when responding to emails. Short, to the point, and without the proper sentence construction. It’s okay in some circumstances, but when over-used, it can make you look uneducated.
Then there are the run-on sentences with no punctuation. I see this in many discussion forums. No capitalization no commas or periods you can’t tell where one sentence ends and the other begins and then the thoughts change completely mid-stream which makes it even harder to follow. Did you like that example?
The reality is we have about three seconds to capture someone’s attention. If you make the person work too hard to understand you, they’ll just move on to another website or blog.
Punctuation and spelling matter!
Learn the rules of proper punctuation and spell check your work. MS Word makes it easy. The software even provides a Thesaurus for alternate word choices. Anything underlined in red is considered misspelled or unknown (not in the MS Word dictionary). Anything underlined in green is considered a grammatical error which can be corrected when you run the spell check option under the Review tab. There are plenty of free spelling and grammar checking tools, and many software and browser platforms have them built in. Just remember to use them.
The key is to not sound stuffy and old school. Write the way people speak. But write in short sentences using words that anyone with an 8th grade education would understand. That’s the rule of thumb most journalists use. Only if you’re writing for a specialized industry association journal or publication would you use jargon, industry abbreviations and terminology.
Just keep your audience in mind when you write, and spell-check your work.