A former coworker of mine became a U.S. citizen a few years ago – he’s Australian – and as part of his naturalization exam, he had to write the following sentence:
They ride in their car.
He passed, but a staggering number of natural-born Americans would not. If good grammar and punctuation were required for the rest of us to be American, I’d wager many of our fellow citizens would have to surrender they’re passport’s.
Ok, I admit it, I’m a bit of a grammar nerd. When I first started in radio, it nearly killed me to write sentence fragments, even in the interest of striking that all-important conversational tone. I’ve gotten used to that, but a misused “it’s” or a misplaced apostrophe still has that nails-on-a-chalkboard effect (although I have decided that somewhere, someday there should be a band called “Misplaced Apostrophe.”)
As a group, we broadcast journalists have tended to be a bit, well, relaxed about grammar. Our audiences don’t read our work; they hear and see it, so why spend too much time worrying about it? Of course, all that changed with the digital revolution. Like it or not, we’re now expected to turn our on-air stories into web articles, to blog and to Tweet, to post on Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram – all venues where our words will be read. While it’s true that most of those venues are relatively informal, it still dings our credibility when we publish content with grammar and punctuation error’s (sorry, couldn’t resist).
To that end, I’m sharing this excellent blog post by writer and editor Emily Paterson. I really wish I’d written it myself because I wanted to shout “Amen!” after almost every one of her points. Take a few minutes to read it. Maybe post it on the bulletin board in your newsroom or office. It’s a great refresher on how to avoid the most common – and most annoying – mistakes that seem to be popping up everywhere we look.
Thanks Emily – keep up the grammar evangelism!