Saturday, June 30, 2012

Simple, Respectful Written Communication Skills...Dinosaur?

Greetings from Kaye Spencer.

Two weeks ago, I left one of my Yahoo reader/writer groups because a moderator sent out a message in which he didn't capitalize any words (proper nouns or first letter of sentences), nor did he put
apostrophes in contractions or possessives. He didn't include end punctuation in all of the sentences, either. His message was around 300 words, all one paragraph, and all in lowercase letters. Not only did this make the reading tedious, his message was lost on me because I was so dismayed before I reached the half-way point, that I stopped reading and cancelled my membership right then. The topic of the message had something to do with members caring/not caring about the group. Hmmm...

Yes, I got my panties in a wad.

I teach English (6th grade through community college). I'm also a published romance novelist and a romance novel editor. I realize this triple combination makes me hypersensitive to the grammar and mechanics of writing. The careless attention (or is it a lack of attention) that many people have toward employing the basic conventions of writing saddens and distresses me. I've encountered this problem in other places besides Yahoo groups. Facebook is one of those notoriously non-capitalized and non-punctuated social venues.

When did writers cease to care that when they don't apply even the most rudimentary writing conventions to their writing that it makes them look... well... stupid? Furthermore, when and why did lazy writing become fashionable? Some people want to hide their lazy writing habits behind the guise of, "It's my style" or "That's an editor's/teacher's job to fix" or "Everybody writes like that". It's ignorance on the part of the writer to leave off capital letters at the beginning of sentences or fail to insert apostrophes where they belong. Surely, I'm not the only reader in the world of writing that sees this and has issues with what I fear is a trend toward dumbing-down written communication skills. I often worry that the message conveyed in the movie "Idiocracy" is closer to reality than is comfortable.

Do lazy writers really expect to be taken seriously? Do lazy writers expect others to actually read and care about what they write? Do these writers realize the lack of maturity and intelligence they demonstrate in hen they write without using correct, basic writing conventions? I constantly harp at my students, with whom I do daily battle on these same writing issues, about professionalism in writing. How difficult is it, really, to use the shift key and capitalize the pronoun 'I'? Inserting an apostrophe doesn't even require the shift key.

I know we live in an era of texting, informal e-mail language, instant messaging, and the use of other short-cut communication tricks such as 'U' instead of 'you' or 'R' instead of 'are'. Each has its own special place in the communication spectrum, but these places are not in the public or professional writing arenas. I tell my students that others judge them by the way they use language.

Consider the wisdom of this saying: "You only get one chance to make a first impression." Cyber-socializing and cyber-communicating is a significant part of our daily lives. The interactions we have with others are increasingly via the written word. So, folks, make a positive impression every single time you present yourself in writing.

No, I am not a grammar or punctuation nazi, and this rant is not for debating the proper placement of commas, subject/verb agreement, run-on sentences, dangling participles, etc. In fact, I'm absolutely certain some of you reading this diatribe will critique my grammar and punctuation and point out my errors. I can accept that. Neither am I on my soapbox saying that we must all write (or even speak) with formal correctness all the time. I am, however, on my soapbox rallying for a minimum standard of self-respect for yourself and others in written communication endeavors by applying, at a minimum, correct capitalization, end punctuation, and appropriate apostrophe placement. My students know that my classroom is a "Full Communication Classroom". This means no lazy language allowed, written or spoken. For instance, 'IDK' is prohibited as is 'OMG' and '4' in place of the word. Perhaps I'm the proverbial 'dinosaur' teacher who is unable to change with the times and will eventually die off. If that's the case, I will go out in a blaze of glory still teaching the basic conventions of the English language.

I will leave you with this quote from Ernest Hemingway. His words apply to more than just punctuation. "My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements."

Fair warning to lazy writers: I'm no longer going to try to decipher your meaning when you haven't bothered to show me you respect me as a reader. So, please, if you want me to read what you have to say, then employ the basic mechanics of writing. It's the intelligent, respectful thing to do for all of your readers and yourself.

Until next month,

Fall in love... faster, harder, deeper with Kaye Spencer romances

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