I have a confession to make. When I was in college, I used to write mean notes on post-its and stick them on the door or desk of friends who angered me. My college roommates and suitemates can attest that my superpower was being a “poison-penpal”. But let’s be clear. There was no super-power to it, only a quick temper and a good supply of post-it notes. We joke about it now, but I often think about how long-lasting our words can have when we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
I have another confession (I guess it’s good to cleanse the soul at the beginning of the year, right?): I abhor grammar errors. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes make them, but when I see glaring errors in writing, my skin crawls worse than hearing fingernails on chalkboard (lesson for the under 30: “A chalkboard is a bit like a whiteboard, but we wrote on it with a piece of white chalk and it never got fully erased.”)
For the sake of fun, let’s play a little game. The game is called “Guess what these sentences have in common”:
Do you feel the long nails reaching for the chalk-covered board?
Now, how do you feel when I tell you that Grammar check only sees two errors in those four MESSES of sentences?
I’ve been accused of being a Grammar-Nazi, but, for the record, I want you to understand why I am so picky about grammar (and spelling, and word choice, and tone, and….and…and…and).
If I send you an email and it has errors in it, do you want to grade it? Maybe. Maybe not.
How about if you send me a vita when you are applying for a job and that vita has spelling errors all over it? You are probably not going to get hired. You likely would not even get an interview.
Now, just for a moment, consider that those sentences above are written by students who are trying to earn their Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree, and you are grading their papers. What grade do you give? How much do grammar errors count versus how much does the content of the writing count? Some people say: If I can’t read the writing, I am not going to grade it. Some people say we need to separate the writing style (grammar, spelling, word choice) from the content and grade them separately. My argument is that if I can‘t read the content for all the writing errors, the content is all for naught. But I’m trying to get better at that, as some school and universities use a rubric to grade, and the rubric often counts content as much as style.
Even if the grammar is passable, sometimes the writing is still unbearable due to word choice. Consider Mark Twain’s quote:
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
I get it. Those are subtle nuances. But what about the writer who repeats the exact same word over and over again?
Just for today, maybe we can focus on writing in the way in which we want to be remembered? Please?