How we speak is how we write

By · Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Funny how a seemingly simple conversation about tangerines and clementines can spark a lively exchange about language.

Here is how it went:

Me: Try some of this clementine. It’s really sweet.

Other person: What is a clementine?

Me: It’s like a tangerine, but it has no seeds.

Other person: Why are you saying it has something when it doesn’t?

Me: What?

Other person: You said it has no seeds. How can it have nothing?

Me: (Blank look)

Other person: You should have said, “It doesn’t have any seeds.”

Me: Do you want some or not?

How we speak is generally how we write — unless we think carefully and assess each word and phrase. In a casual conversation, we usually can get away with a casual style (this citrus example aside). But people who read our words are usually less forgiving. That’s because readers expect a lot from us.

Inattention is how cliches sneak by us. It’s how we choose the wrong use of a word. It’s why we react with an audible OMG when someone points out our published missteps.

When readers take the time to point out grammatical and language missteps, think about how you can tap into them as a resource. The digital world is an easy way to do that, and here is one idea.

On your website or app, offer a link for readers to point out grammatical errors they spot in your stories. Provide a form, which will make it easy for readers to report the errors and for you to locate the stories. Internally, track the errors. Use this idea in two ways: so you can provide feedback and, possibly, training for reporters and editors who need it; so you can foster a collegial exchange with readers, who are providing a valuable service. Be sure you follow up with readers who write by rewarding them with feedback. Monitor the reader posts so you can assess how well editors are doing in preventing grammatical errors from being published. Be sure to reward the editors, your grammar gatekeepers, with feedback, too. (From “Reward Your Readers,” a Think Digital segment in Strategy 25: Edit for Grammar, in our Think Like an Editor book.)

Not an editor? Posting your own work? You can still try out these tips to tap into your readers.

BTW, I don’t have to tell you who the Other Person is; I know you just know!

Emilie Davis

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