10/20/2011 (10:28 pm)

Grammatically Destroying Credibility

Filed under: Writing Basics |

I’ve taken on three jobs lately that have involved editing work written by someone else who’s an expert in the subject.  It’s been enlightening because these three pieces involved two different people writing on a single subject.  My task was to take these pieces, edit them for grammar and clarity, then combine them into one large electronic book for distribution.  The subject was medical and one of the writers is a medical doctor (MD) while the other is a nurse practitioner.

Despite both of these people being well educated and having higher learning under their belt, they both made the same basic mistakes on a regular basis.  Mistakes that, if not corrected, will surely torpedo any credibility they might have.  Here’s an example:

“The conventional treatment method would be too conduct digital surveys of the patient’s affected region and compare it’s current state to the norm.”

Now, reading this, it conveys the meaning and has no errors that are likely to trigger the common person’s radar.  The two small and very common errors in this sentence, however, will compound with similar errors throughout to sink the credibility ship for these medical experts.

These mistakes are common and I see them regularly in my travels online, especially when reading amateur websites (meaning sites not associated with a business, like a personal blog or a Facebook profile).  I see them often in semi-professional communications as well (meaning those “professional” communiques that have little credibility to begin with).

Words like “to,” “too,” and sometimes “two” are phonetically the same, but are very different words in use.  Another word from our example above was “it’s,” which can be “its” as well.  With the apostrophe, the word is short for “it is” and without, it’s a possessive.  That’s a common mistake, since most people associate the ” ‘s” in a word as being possessive, but this is one of those fun exceptions in the English language.

In fact, there are a lot of phonetically similar words with different meanings and usage that often get interposed simply because the spell checker in your word processor won’t see the difference.  Words like “rain” and “peer” can become “reign” and “pier” without triggering the red underline of bad spelling.

But they’ll be noted by some in the reading audience.  Sprinkle half a dozen such mistakes in a 500-word piece and most of the people reading will notice at least one.  Personally, I’m willing to write off one or two as typos in a piece like that, but if I see several, I may discount the author altogether.

So whether you’re self-editing or editing someone else’s work, be aware of these common juxtapositions and remedy them.

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