It’s that time again, a simple call for questions. This time I’m looking for anything you want to know about editing, grammar, punctuation, proofreading, etc.
Please submit your question in the comments below, send me an email or leave a post on Facebook or Twitter.
Perhaps it’s the English nerd in me, but this is one of my biggest pet peeves in terms of misuse of the English language. So many people speak the phrase “I could care less” in the wrong context, assuming it is correct because that is how they have heard it used in the past. But let’s take a closer look at this statement.
Most of the time, people should be stating “I couldn’t care less.” They use the phrase above to indicate that the degree to which they care is so small, that it could not possibly be any less, which is to say that they don’t care at all.
Let’s briefly look at this in math terms. Assume for a moment that you are a sports nut and the last thing that you care about in the world is reading a book. On a scale of 0 to 100, your level of caring about sports is around a 95 while your level of caring about reading a book is an absolute 0.
If you’re reading this and realizing that you’ve been using this phrase incorrectly until now, I forgive you. Go ahead and forgive yourself too. Part of fixing the problem is admitting that you have one in the first place.
But please make sure you DO fix it. I couldn’t care MORE about you doing this. (See what I did there?) Every time you hear yourself start to say “I could care less,” think about my example above and make sure that’s what you mean. If it’s accurate, go for it. But if you really mean that you can’t care any less, then say that instead. Share your new found insight with your friends and once they see it, they’ll think you’re a genius…or maybe just an English nerd.
Writing is hard. Anyone who has ever sat down at a computer (or typewriter or blank sheet of paper) knows that it can be a daunting task to set your ideas down in writing. Because of the difficulty of the task, many people often fall back on comfortable words and phrases to help them get by.
One step to fine tuning your writing is to figure out what words you rely on when you don’t know what else to say, find them in your writing and eliminate them. Here are three common ones that I have seen in writing:
Poor Miss Teen South Carolina (Caitlin Upton) didn't have the benefit of being able to write down her statement and see how silly it looks/sounds. Anyone listening to her response and having even the slightest knowledge of the English language would be appalled. That’s why I highly recommend reading your writing out loud. By verbalizing the text, you will be able to hear things that are repetitive and may not sound as good as when you wrote them.
Of course, you literally could just such as ignore my advice…
I have been working for the last few weeks trying to get the word out about Best Word Forward and I came across something that astounded me. I found a website called ProfileTree which allows people or business to post their services. I quickly took advantage of this opportunity to get some more exposure for Best Word Forward.
Once I had posted my information, I browsed around the site for a bit to see where my postings landed when someone searched for them. I found a few people posting writing services where they would write articles for a small fee. The only problem with these posts that offered writing services was that each one had misspelled words and absolutely terrible grammar. Granted, when you’re working with 30-70 characters, grammar can tend to take a back seat to simply getting your point across. However, if you’re advertising writing services, you probably want to make sure the writing in your advertisement, follows the basic norms of the language you’re writing in.
Now, if I am to believe the images that went along with these pictures, the people posting these ads were likely from foreign countries and not native English speakers. This does not excuse them from having to use the English language correctly if they are advertising to do so. I would compare this to a graphic designer advertising her services with something drawn in crayon on the back of a napkin or a company that makes fine stationary advertising on a piece of ripped up cardboard.
With all of the noise in the world today, it’s hard to get noticed and I’m worried that these people might get noticed simply because of their silly mix-ups and I might get skipped over because I seem to know what I’m talking about. I hope that’s not the case, but the fact that these advertisements are allowed to remain on the sight with their glaring errors, frustrates me to no end. Perhaps I should offer my services to these people and help them become better writers and in turn spread that around the world.
Please let me know if you would hire these people to write for you. Maybe I’ll have to rethink my advertising strategy.
I was playing around in MS Word the other day and noticed an option to include readability statistics when doing a spelling and grammar check. I decided to mark the box and see what happened.
A little to my surprise I fewer misspellings that I had anticipated, many thanks to the autocorrect function in Word for that. I also received a little window that gave me a “readability score” (in the mid 60s) and a “grade level” (nearly 8th grade!) for my document. I didn't entirely understand the meaning of these numbers or what scale they should be judged against, something Microsoft might want to incorporate into their programming when they are provided, so I went online to find out more.
The name associated with the numbers was Flesch. I quickly came upon an article by Rudolf Flesch on the website of the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) titled How to Write Plain English. Apparently Mr. Flesch developed a formula for figuring out the readability of any piece of English language writing and placing it on a scale. Regardless of what you are writing, there is something in here for everyone. If you’re writing young adult novels, this formula can help you determine if you’re writing to old or young for the average reader in the ages you are targeting. If you have a piece of writing and the readability score comes back in the teens or single digits, you probably need to find some time to edit as soon as possible.
I can hear you asking already, how can language be distilled down into a formula? It can’t. We can however use this formula as a tool for guiding us in our writing. Something as complicated as language can never be measured simply like numbers but the more information we have about our writing, the better off we will be.
Check out Flesch’s entire article. And while you’re at it, browse around the rest of the University of Canterbury’s website. I always find it interesting to see what sites look like for places around the world.
Photo Credit: Asif Akbar via sxc.hu
One of the most common grammatical mistakes I see people make it misusing “its,” “it’s,” and “its’.” I can understand the confusion and honestly it is sometimes hard to determine which one is correct so I hope this brief overview can help clear up the confusion.
Photo Credit: Maxime Perron Caissy via sxc.hu
Everyone wants to sound smart. Being smart can help you get ahead in the world but being smart and using big words do not necessarily go together.
Take a look at the previous short paragraph. The longest word was “necessarily” and I would argue that nothing in those two sentences was very fancy. You can find all of those words in normal conversation. Using common words makes the reading easy to understand and quickly gets the point across.
Let me try to re-write that first paragraph in a way that tries to “sound smart”:
We have all heard the saying “addition by subtraction.” I propose a new saying here; “addition by simplification.” Complication is sometimes just that and ends up confusing the reader. Remember this simple rule: “If I need a thesaurus to find the right word, chances are the reader will need a dictionary to figure out my meaning.”
Photo Credit: Bartosz Borecki via sxc.hu
Small disclosure, it was recently my son's birthday and he received a gift of a remote control car that is supposed to be able to drive on walls. I have yet to make it do this, but I'm hoping batteries might be the culprit.
But the point here is the absolutely horrid instruction sheet that came with the toy. I'm not sure where the person who wrote it learned to use the English language, but I AM sure that it was not in this country or any other where English is the primary language spoken by the majority of people. In probably fewer than 500 words that were printed on the instruction sheet, I found at least 15-20 grammatical errors and numerous sentences that didn't make any sense. There were spelling mistakes and information that if you followed it to the letter, would probably lead to permanently ruining the device.
All that being said, i had to snap a few pictures just to prove the point. I don't think I'm infringing on any copyrights with posting pictures of this document as I doubt anyone would want to publicly claim this debacle.
Photo Credit: Roger Kirby via sxc.hu
At the risk of angering John McWhorter I’m going to proclaim that the sky is indeed falling. The proper use of punctuation is a dying art. More generally, it sometimes seems like ANY use of punctuation is a dying art. I have to confess that I don’t punctuate my text messages 100% of the time, but I’m pretty close. Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned, but I like people to know when one thought ends and another begins.
Let's take another look at that previous paragraph
Don’t get me wrong, I think McWhorter is absolutely right that kids today are learning two different languages, the language of true written word, and the language of speech and shorthand communication. This dual fluency is fantastic. I just don’t want us to lose the beauty and grace of the written word as it was originally intended to be used.
Are you two tense? Rather, do you use two tenses in your writing? This can be a cardinal sin in writing and something that makes an idea very hard to follow. When you’re writing something that “is” happening, make sure that it continues to happen “now” and doesn't suddenly become a past or future event. What exactly do I mean by this?
Let’s take this example:
Jonathan Ytreberg is the owner of Best Word Forward, committed to providing the best resume advice and services to clients around the globe.