Years ago, when I first started teaching high school English, I had a hard time getting used to the reaction people would have when they discovered what I did. The usual response was a variation of, “I guess I need to be careful how I speak.” I would also receive memos, and later emails, that often started with a line that read, “Please excuse my grammar.” The implication of these statements was that the speakers and writers were aware of their potential to make errors, that they felt embarrassed by these errors but not enough to correct them. After all, only English teachers care about proper grammar and usage. So they would apologize to me and continue their error-laden communications with the everyone else.
I have heard many people argue that ultimately if meaning is conveyed it doesn’t matter if conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics are observed. I suppose there is something to the argument except the reason for the rules is to ensure that the intended meaning is conveyed. The title of this blog is a perfect example of this. The difference between the sentences Let’s cut and paste kids and Let’s cut and paste, kids is the difference between a fun classroom activity and something painful and messy. A mere comma.
I would argue that following the rules and conventions of the English language is in fact not the sole concern of English teachers, writers, and editors. Everyone should strive for clarity in both speech and writing for the following reasons:
- To avoid confusion when giving direction as in the title of this blog.
- To ensure ideas are accurately conveyed.
- To avoid being perceived as either not possessing an adequate education or just not paying attention to details.
While attending college, I worked in a home improvement store. My department head was very knowledgeable about our products and their installation, but her spelling and grammar were lacking. Very often her purchase orders were sent back from the vendor because they did not quite understand a special instruction. The store also had to regularly return products because of her confusing orders. In the end, all of her purchase orders had to be reviewed and corrected by a manager, and because of this, she was never considered for promotion. I have also witnessed the reaction of parents and alumni when a teacher either sends an email with errors or posts on social media without proofreading. All of a sudden not only is the ability of the teacher questioned, but the quality of the education students are receiving at the school is also doubted.
I am not claiming perfection when it comes to my communication. I have found it necessary to proofread my own material before hitting send or post, and even then I will occasionally have to go back and edit. For more important documents, I go to a second party so that another set of eyes might catch what I have missed. This is especially important for professional documents, blogs, web content, etc. that I post. After spending time in research, thought, and writing, the worst result is my audience becoming distracted from my message by an error or two.
So, if you don’t want to get trolled in the comment section of a social media post, if you don’t want people wondering about your education level or ability to pay attention to detail, and you don’t want kids traumatized by scissors and glue, proofread your content or find someone you trust who can do it for you.