Confessions of the Grammar Police

Let me preface the following rant by admitting that I am more than a bit neurotic when it comes to copyediting and proofreading. I have a nasty, and sometimes obnoxious, habit of mentally editing all documents, emails, articles, and books that pass through my line of sight. That’s not to say that I never make mistakes, because I am as guilty as the next person of shooting off a quick email with a typo or failing to reread a document during crunch time. It happens to the best of us, but I try to limit my errors to the rare misstep. On a recent vacation, I found myself with time to actually sit down to start (and finish) a book. I excitedly dug into a book that discusses the rise of Twitter as an online social network and business communications tool.  The actual content was really interesting, and the profiles of early adopters, like Comcast, Dell and Coffee Groundz (the ground zero of social media in Houston) were fascinating as studies in ingenuity and risk taking. However, the reading experience wasn't the relaxing, let-my-mind-go escape I had hoped for.  I kept hitting roadblock after roadblock in my respect for the book, because there were typos as big as a neon sign in Vegas in nearly every chapter. (And yes, I realize that I left a dangling preposition two lines back. As stringent as I am, I do believe in breaking rules--as long as it is a conscious choice. Selective policing, if you will). Perhaps you could claim that this one book is an anomaly and not a statement of current affairs. Perhaps, but I would counter that the very next book I read was also littered with errors and lazy comma use. And this isn’t just a problem with modern book publishing. Newspapers, the perceived bastions of good writing, are also rife with demonstrations of poor editing. In April, the Guardian managed to misspell its own name in an article about a recent Webby nomination for best newspaper website. Slate, a well-respected online magazine, featured two typos in just one paragraph on BP’s handling of oil spill-related PR. Most dramatically, a simple typo was recently blamed—at least in part—for the terrifying, fire sale-inducing 1,000-point plunge in the Dow. Typos are everywhere. It's enough to drive a self-proclaimed grammar freak into a tailspin. After finishing the book on Twitter, I was left with a lingering feeling that the author lacked credibility. Is this fair? Probably not. The book undoubtedly passed through the eyes of several editors at the publishing house, so the blame lies squarely in their court. However, it is a giant reminder that how—and not just what—you write is a reflection on your reputation, professionalism and authority. Take the time to proofread your emails, and have a colleague lend a second eye to your reports. I can assure you that the minute—or ten minutes—it takes to do this is well worth the avoidance of embarrassing errors and unintended judgments on your capabilities.[1]
[1] Heaven help me, if I’ve failed to follow a grammar rule or misspelled a word in this post. If you will forgive me my trespasses, I promise to turn off my grammar police radar gun when I read your next email.

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