Monthly Archives: September 2011

Feeling grammarous

Grammar is a technique that aids in understanding. When writers use incorrect grammar or syntax, messages can be unclear. Communication can be less than effective. Readers have to work harder.

My favorite journalism professor suggested that a writer can be thought of as an artisan. Just as a craftsman of fine furniture does not attempt to construct a cabinet using a dull saw and a crooked chisel, a writer cannot craft a respectable passage without the right tools. Grammar is a communicator’s tool. “Artisans have their self-respect tied to the quality of their craft,” the professor said. A skilled woodworker is meticulous, and a skilled writer must be tooor, better still, a writer who cares must use an editor.

Grammar is a system that makes language work. That’s true for any language.

Audiences don’t have to be grammar experts to know when a sentence just isn’t right. Faulty words interrupt a reader’s flow of thought and can spoil the reading experience. They also reveal a writer’s lack of skill and care.

If a diner, anticipating a fine restaurant experience, settles into his chair and notices lipstick on the glass that was placed in front of him, he will form a judgment. The quality of the food and service might be fine indeed. But the customer’s opinion of the restaurant is likely to be tarnished by its failure to inspect glasses as they made their way from dishwasher to table. Because the restaurant is careless about its glassware, the customer has misgivings about the establishment’s practices.

The same kind of reasoning applies to faulty prose. If readers stumble over inferior writing, they might think less of an organization’s ability to perform other tasks well.

Credibility is endangered.

If an organization doesn’t care enough to edit written words before delivering them to readers, the organization might also follow sloppy quality-assurance procedures or provide ill-considered advice.

Carelessness in an item placed in front of a customer—a cabinet, a glass, or a document—can cast doubt on the level of skill and care that goes into everything else the organization does.

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Filed under clear writing, editing, grammar