My boss at a previous job and I would argue about proper grammar. We didn’t argue about content like why I talked to certain people and not others nor did we argue over what stories I chose to write. We argued about our differences in grammar. I always refer to the “ribbon-cutting ceremony” argument the most. I say there’s a hyphen. He says there is not.
I have a lot of grammar pet peeves. I hate the overuse of “this” and “that” in articles, especially that. Far too often the “that” is not needed, especially when someone writes “said that.” I get annoyed when people overuse commas. People who don’t put periods inside the quotation mark drive me batty. Splitting the infinitive also can drive me bonkers. And the list goes on and on, though I felt better when I joined #wjchat on the subject last night. There are others with similar pet peeves or some crazier than mine.
It’s what happens when you take care in editing copy, which sometimes I believe happens less and less in today’s writing world. But most of us are self editing, like I have to do with this blog. I call it “flying without a net.” When I worked at WestportNow and Patch, my stories would go up without an editor reviewing it. Someone might look at it later to edit. Sometimes that didn’t happen. It’s part of why I have worked hard to write clean copy.
How do you make sure your copy is clean before you post? You don’t need to scrutinize it. Just give it a read, but here’s the biggest piece of advice: Read it out loud if you can. It’s a trick I learned as a journalism undergraduate student. You’re more likely to find your mistakes, especially awkward sentences and repeated words, if you read something out loud. I remember dashing off something quick for a “writing for the ear” glass in graduate school without reading it out loud to myself. When I read it out loud for the first time to my class I noticed how I had repeated one word several times.
On Twitter today, @ksablan posted a link to an article with mistakes too many writers make. Some of my pet peeves are mentioned in the article. But there’s really no real list of simple mistakes we all make. We all have a quirk, which is something to keep in mind. Is there a word you cannot spell? Do you always mess up using affect versus effect? If you know the mistake you make over and over, you can remind yourself with a note (I used to have Post-It notes all over my monitor with words I could never spell properly). Eventually, though, you’ll train yourself to not make those mistakes.
Also remember your audience is your editor too. They’re going to pick up typos and other mistakes and let you know about it. Some are nice and will send you an e-mail, but others will call you out in the comments. Still others may rip you apart because you made a grammar mistake. The proper thing to do is to thank them for pointing it out and fixing it in the article. Always thank the person who points it out, even if they’re nasty to you. The nasty commenters won’t really have a response to an acknowledgement and mention that you edited the story.
Do you have advice for writing clean copy? Post your thoughts in the comments below.