Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Once an editor, always an editor

My personal trainer teases that I have a lousy job because I’m always on the lookout for mistakes. He tells me, “No wonder you’re cranky you spend all your time correcting things!” It’s true. As an editor, my job is to find mistakes and correct them . . . but I actually much prefer the description I offered a recent acquaintance on Tagged: "I make other peoples words work better for them.”

The problem my trainer alludes to, though, is that you can’t shut it off. This mistake-noticing part of my brain is always at work. I notice mistakes on signs, in newspapers and magazines, on product labels, in books, and in the close captioning on the cable TV in bars.

I also notice weird spacing issues. How often have you seen a sign like this?

Probably more than you realize – because it just didn’t catch your attention the way it would mine. This is not so much an issue of correct or incorrect as it is one of aesthetics.

Wouldn’t it just look better if it read ?

Friends and networking associates tell me they’re always intimidated (and extra careful) when they send me e-mail. I tell them I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice almost every mistake, even when I’m not intentionally looking for them. But I don’t look down or think less of anyone for being a poor speller.

There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed when it comes to one’s grammar and/or spelling proficiency. No matter how bad the spelling or how egregious the grammar errors, none of that is representative of how smart a person is or how important the information she wants to share. In fact, it is widely reputed that Albert Einstein, the unquestionably genius physicist, was so bad at spelling that he was initially assumed to be retarded. According to the 1998 article, "Ten Obscure Factoids Concerning Albert Einstein," Factoid #3 is:

He Was a Rotten Speller. Although he lived for many years in the United States and was fully bilingual, Einstein claimed never to be able to write in English because of "the treacherous spelling." He never lost his distinctive German accent either, summed up by his catch-phrase "I vill a little t'ink."

Being a poor speller, however, is not an excuse for sloppy work, whether it’s Web copy, memos, or an eBook. People like me have jobs for a reason. And if paying for editing is beyond your budget, at least have the common sense to run your writing past someone a little more grammar-oriented than you.

It’s good to know I’m not alone in my peculiar pursuit of spelling and punctuation precision. Neil Neches, a writer for the New York City Transit Authority received a full write-up in The New York Times for his use of a semicolon on a subway placard. His handiwork? A sign reading: “Please put your newspaper in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

My trainer may be right there does seem to be something just a little neurotic about a job that causes me to always be on the lookout for mistakes. I can shift that paradigm a bit, though, when I view it not as always looking for mistakes, but rather, as being consistently on the lookout for ways to improve the world, one word (or semicolon) at a time.

Labels: , , , ,

Shop for the Perfect Gift