Grammar & The English Language


grammar-police-imageAs a textual content editing professional we are often, affectionately or otherwise, referred to as the ‘Grammar Police’! Guilty as charged but then again we are hired to make sure each client’s written content is well-conceived and constructed, makes sense and is highly engaging to its targeted audience. I wear the badge proudly!

In this article I will share some of the more glaring grammatical issues frequenting written content whether in book publications of fiction or non-fiction, advertising and marketing copy, technical writing and any other form or source of written content.

Dictionary.com defines ‘grammar‘ as follows:

1.  the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed; morphology and syntax.

2.  these features or constructions themselves:

English grammar.

3.  an account of these features; a set of rules accounting for these constructions:

a grammar of English.
4.  Generative Grammar. a device, as a body of rules, whose output is all of the sentences that are permissible in a given language, while excluding all those that are not permissible.

6.  knowledge or usage of the preferred or prescribed forms in speaking or writing:

She said his grammar was terrible.
7.  the elements of any science, art, or subject.

Grammar, as applied in its many forms within the English language, is indeed complex and confusing. Established standards of grammatical correctness have been developed and modified over the years to best represent acceptable application of English rules. The standards include proper word usage, punctuation, capitalization, clarification of words and homonyms, numeric vs written form of numbers within the context of textual content and more.
 
Why the big worry about grammar and punctuation when nobody seems to care anymore? In the course of normal conversation it is one thing to hear misused words and still be able to understand what the speaker is referring to. It becomes quite another issue when the printed or digital forms of written content contain typos, spelling and grammatical errors and riddled with wayward or misused punctuation. Consider the negative impression we would leave with a human resources manager reviewing our cover letter and resume; if the content is riddled with mistakes would you want to hire that applicant?
 
For written content that is produced for publication, informational and/or professional purposes, there is every expectation that the content is error-free and grammatically correct. This becomes especially true for any written content that forms part of a purchased product. The consumer has every reasonable right to expect clean, properly constructed and edited content that is clear and concise in its intent and meaning. The same can be said for written compositions developed and submitted for grading in an educational institution.
 
I recall back to my days in journalism school where the college instructor was, as expected, extremely critical of any paper submitted with even a few errors. We would type our papers on a manual typewriter (yes, I am dating myself but there was purpose in the manual typewriter use – we did have electric typewriters by then!). If we submitted our article or story containing even one single mistake of any kind the instructor would share the errors with the entire class and then tear the paper to shreds and angrily toss the destroyed evidence into the trash can and instruct us to start all over again and not waste the scholar’s time with such sloppy work!
 
Using the manual typewriter was slow, tedious and painstaking but that was the whole point of the exercise. With a manual typewriter, the very construction of the machine forced its user to slowly and methodically strike firmly on the desired keys, thereby demanding a more focused attention to chosen keys for optimum accuracy. We were NOT permitted to use whiteout for correction purposes! Had we been working with an electric typewriter the tendency was to type much faster yet there was greater potential for errors because we were less attentive to the keys we were striking.
 
The whole point of this analogy is to illustrate the necessity for a clean, error free paper. In today’s marketplace the onus is much more on the author of the written content to ensure that it is error-free and grammatically correct as in many instances budget allowance is minimal to non-existent for editorial staff to take over content for final copy readiness.

GRAMMAR RULES

Grammatical rules are indeed complex and widely varied. Complexities of the English language have been passed down through the generations in the form of established and accepted standards, most often found in ‘style guides’ which have been developed in specific countries around the world. Editorial and proofreading professionals use such guides as reference materials when reviewing and revising written content for their clients or in-house staff.

The complexities of the English language demand that we study in great detail the definition, applications and intended usage of specific words or word groups such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, subjects and more to ensure that we apply correct wording in our written compositions in the appropriate form such that those words, combined together, are in grammatical ‘agreement’.

Subject-Verb Agreement

  • single subjects require the compliment of a single verb and plural subjects require the compliment of plural verbs i.e. The list of items is/are on the desk. In this example the ‘list’ is the subject (singular), therefore ‘is’ would be the correct verb used.

Who Vs Whom

  • Rule: Use this he/him method to decide whether who or whom is correct:he = who
    him = whom

    Examples:
    Who/Whom wrote the letter?
    He wrote the letter. Therefore, who is correct.

    Who/Whom should I vote for?
    Should I vote for him? Therefore, whom is correct.

Who, That, Which

Rule 1. Who and sometimes that refer to people. That and which refer to groups or things.

Examples:
Anya is the one who rescued the bird.
“The Man That Got Away” is a great song with a grammatical title.

Lokua is on the team that won first place.
She belongs to a great organization, which specializes in saving endangered species.

Rule 2a. That introduces what is called an essential clause (also known as a restrictive or defining clause). Essential clauses add information that is vital to the point of the sentence.

Example: I do not trust products that claim “all natural ingredients” because this phrase can mean almost anything.
We would not know the type of products being discussed without the that clause.

Rule 2b. Which introduces a nonessential clause (also known as a nonrestrictive or nondefining clause), which adds supplementary information.

Example: The product claiming “all natural ingredients,” which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, is on sale.
The product is already identified. Therefore, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper is a nonessential clause containing additional, but not essential, information.

Prepositions

Definition:  A preposition is a word or set of words that indicates location (in, near, beside, on top of) or some other relationship between a noun or pronoun and other parts of the sentence (about, after, besides, instead of, in accordance with). A preposition isn’t a preposition unless it goes with a related noun or pronoun, called the object of the preposition.

Examples:
Let’s meet before noon.
Before is a preposition; noon is its object.

We’ve never met before.
There is no object; before is an adverb modifying met.

Rule 1. A preposition generally, but not always, goes before its noun or pronoun. One of the undying myths of English grammar is that you may not end a sentence with a preposition. But look at the first example that follows. No one should feel compelled to say, or even write, That is something with which I cannot agree. Just do not use extra prepositions when the meaning is clear without them.

Correct: That is something I cannot agree with.

Correct: Where did you get this?

Incorrect: Where did you get this at?

Correct: How many of you can I depend on?

Correct: Where did he go?

Incorrect: Where did he go to?

Rule 2a. The preposition like means “similar to” or “similarly to.” It should be followed by an object of the preposition (noun, pronoun, noun phrase), not by a subject and verb. Rule of thumb: Avoid like when a verb is involved.

Correct:
You look like your mother.
That is, you look similar to her. (Mother is the object of the preposition like.)

Incorrect:
You look like your mother does.
(Avoid like with noun + verb.)

Rule 2b. Instead of like, use as, as if, as though, or the way when following a comparison with a subject and verb.

Correct: You look the way your mother does.

Incorrect: Do like I ask. (No one would say Do similarly to I ask.)

Correct: Do as I ask.

Incorrect: You look like you’re angry.

Correct: You look as if you’re angry. (OR as though)

Some speakers and writers, to avoid embarrassment, use as when they mean like. The following incorrect sentence came from a grammar guide:

Incorrect: They are considered as any other English words.

Correct: They are considered as any other English words would be.

Correct: They are considered to be like any other English words.

Remember: like means “similar to” or “similarly to”; as means “in the same manner that.” Rule of thumb: Do not use as unless there is a verb involved.

Incorrect: I, as most people, try to use good grammar.

Correct: I, like most people, try to use good grammar.

Correct: I, as most people do, try to use good grammar.

NOTE

The rule distinguishing like from as, as if, as though, and the way is increasingly ignored, but English purists still insist upon it.

Rule 3. The preposition of should never be used in place of the helping verb have.

Correct: I should have done it.

Incorrect: I should of done it.

Rule 4. It is a good practice to follow different with the preposition from. Most traditionalists avoid different than. Although it is an overstatement to call different than incorrect, it remains polarizing: A is different than B comes across as sloppy to a lot of literate readers. If you can replace different than with different from without having to rewrite the rest of the sentence, why not do so?

Polarizing: You’re different than I am.

Unchallengeable: You’re different from me.

 

Rule 5. Use into rather than in to express motion toward something. Use in to tell the location.

Correct: I swam in the pool.

Correct: I walked into the house.

Correct: I looked into the matter.

Incorrect: I dived in the water.

Correct: I dived into the water.

Incorrect: Throw it in the trash.

Correct: Throw it into the trash.

The foregoing ‘rules’ have been extracted verbatim from GrammarBook.com and are but a few of the standards of the English language effectively and properly applied. The publication also addresses proper punctuation which is equally as complex.

Punctuation

This list of punctuation used in the English language is extensive and includes (not entirely):

  • spacing with punctuation
  • periods
  • commas
  • semi-colons
  • quotation marks (including single quote)
  • parentheses and brackets
  • apostrophes
  • hyphens
  • dashes
  • ellipses
  • question marks
  • exclamation points
  • slashes

There are a multiple of on and offline resources that address the English language, grammar, punctuation, sentence composition and more such as GrammarBook.com, Grammarly.com, many of which also incorporate punctuation, grammar and spell check and plagiarism detection.

MS Word documents have a spelling and grammar check which also provides a readability scoring analysis; an effective way to determine whether the content will be readily understood by its targeted audience.

The advantages of a full working comprehension of established rules of grammar and punctuation cannot be understated. Studies in the English language with grammatical elements incorporated in the programs are highly recommended for anyone who will be required to perform at a high skill level from post secondary school studies through to their chosen career path. The greater your comprehension and application of the language, the better qualified you will be to advance your career based on that exceptional performance level.

Authors; The Editorial Services Decision


Are you an author struggling with who you will hire to edit your book manuscript? You’re not alone! In this article I will explore this critical decision process and how best to come to that critical decision. There have been countless resources published on and offline regarding this difficult author decision process.

Perhaps this is your first time engaging a proofreading or editorial professional and there is that element of unknown. Is this person competent, experienced and efficient with their work? Do they have the right perspective and work approach for your publishing needs? Is he or she a good fit overall for you to work with and will the results be as you had expected, better or worse?

The proofreading and editing processes are, to a degree, a consultative process, especially in the early stages. Periodic questions arise that require the client’s clarification and as such the author needs to be prepared for some interaction to that end. That consultative approach helps the editorial professional to establish a clear understanding of their client’s intentions and expectations from the beginning and helps to stream line the process to a more efficient conclusion.

How does all this relate to a decision on who the author should hire for their manuscript services? Quite plain and simply put, the more inclined the editor is to taking the consultative approach, the better the results upon completion of the review and revision process and the happier the client (author) will obviously be. The book editing process is not just a drop and run process and “I’ll see you when you’re finished.”

I have had clients who have had terrible experiences with editors they have previously hired and for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there was insufficient fact finding and discovery up front. Perhaps either party was in too big a hurry to get the job started and completed before taking adequate time to get a sense of whether they were right for each other to begin with. In the case of those bad experiences, my clients have on occasion approached me initially out of sheer frustration and anxiety because valuable time had been wasted and their targeted publishing date was drawing near.

The Editor Search Criteria

Authors may be unsure what criteria to use when selecting a suitable editor for their book manuscript analysis and revision. Quite often the author has undertaken to self-edit his or her own manuscript content and is unsure whether they even need a proofreader or editor in the first place despite colleagues’ urging to get that objective second look.

As a starting point, the author should assess a personal budget level for the editing services before even picking up the phone to contact potential editing candidates. How much can you afford comfortably? The basis for budget considerations should always be twofold; the affordability of the services for you alone and the value you place on that service to begin with.

Consider what importance you place on having error-free manuscript content, grammatically sound with an objective eye assessing the quality of the content and whether its storyline is consistent throughout. Has the content been structured effectively and with fluid continuity from one paragraph to the next and one page to the next and so on?

Is the editing services cost your sole factor rounding out your final decision on who to hire? Have you researched to determine what competitor fees are and why the differences in fee structure in the editorial industry? Each editorial professional, as independent business persons, will set their own fee structure.

Another important factor to consider is testimonial reviews published on the editor’s website such as those testimonials found here on the home and testimonial page and any other relevant information that might be found through internet searches. Art the website testimonials strictly quoted statements or are those statements qualified by the client’s name and photograph, perhaps even contact information?

Information for discovery:

  • Schedule a date and time to either meet in person over coffee, at the editor’s office or if they are more distant arrange for a telephone conversation/interview.
  • Has former/current client information been shared such as whether clients are primarily one-time arrangements or are there ongoing, longer term associations?
  • Seek referrals from other offers for suitable candidates to consider.
  • Review websites and professional editing/author communities online to see the kind of interaction that occurs between the parties and how they respond to each others’ perspective. What kind of impression are you sensing about the individual?
  • Refer to professional editors directories and association listings.
  • Scrutinize the editor’s website for client testimonials, a client portfolio and samples of editing project documents. Reading the editor’s blog articles will provide a good indication of their level of authority/expertise in various aspects of editing and proofreading services.
  • Does the editor’s services extend beyond proofreading or editing? Do they provide other publishing services i.e. manuscript formatting for print and digital media publishing? Do they provide manuscript interior and cover submission services to conclude the publication process?
  • What assurances does the editor offer regarding the maintaining of the stylistic integrity of your work including your own distinctive voice and style? Most authors develop those distinct writing characteristics that clearly define their ‘signature’ and ‘brand’ that their readers identify with strongly and favor as preferred reading.
  • As the author, be clear on the editor’s role and the scope and depth of services agreed upon in advance.
  • Many editors request a representative sample of the manuscript i.e. several pages in advance for them to provide a trial review and revision which serves to give the editor a comfortable sense of what level of editing to expect for the remainder of the manuscript and on completion a sample suggested change markup copy for the author’s perusal to gain a sense of what they can expect from the editor moving forward.
  • Query the editor on how they would address unexpected issues that might arise during the editing process. Might there be additional services in those instances and how the overall cost would be affected?
  • Does the editor provide a written services agreement which clearly stipulates what services are included, cost itemization for each separate service and other relevant terms and addendums. Service agreements are an important part of the author/editor relationship because it clearly defines services mutually agreed to and protects both parties as a formalized and binding document.

The Hiring Decision

Be careful not to be hasty with your hiring decision. Take as many advance steps in the discovery phase as you feel you need to be sure in your own mind which editorial candidate feels right for you. Don’t prejudge an editor or proofreader solely on the basis of what others have stated in reviews whether good, bad or indifferent. There are many dynamics at play between both parties to the service. Decide objectively what is best for you based on your own project needs.

Don’t forget to get acquainted and get comfortable with each other. Consider the following:

  • Have your questions been addressed fully and openly or were the responses superficial, vague or evasive?
  • Is there a genuine friendliness or artificial over/undertones to the conversation?
  • Does the editor appear engaged and interested in your project or seemingly in a hurry to disengage and end the conversation quickly?
  • Compare several candidates and in doing so be consistent with your line of questioning, topics covered and not bringing everything down to the cost factor alone. Consider very carefully what your objectives are for your publishing project including the potential results once the publication is released and goes live at the retail level.
  • Consider what merit and experience the editor will bring to the table as the project moves forward. Are you both receptive to the process as you understand it?
  • Remember that strict budget constraints can impose limitations not only on how much the editor can do for you but also that ultimately those limitations can affect the final product quality and overall results/performance of your publication upon its release. There is potential for disappointment if results are not as anticipated and the possible desire/need for further editing services at additional cost and the process of publishing a second edition of the book.

In closing I’ll leave with you publishing authority Jane Friedman‘s guest article by Stacy Ennis titled ‘5 Ways to Find The Right Freelance Book Editor‘. You will also see the host’s link to her guide for author publishing titled ‘Publishing 101’. I have been following Jane Friedman for years now. Her comprehensive volume of reference and resource material and her own perspective on the publishing industry and authoring process is valuable insight for all authors to engage in and consider in pursuit of a better publishing experience.

© Don MacIver, Editor, Lasting Impressions Editing 2016

Audience Centric & Letter Perfect


A photo by Alejandro Escamilla. unsplash.com/photos/y83Je1OC6WcReader engagement has never had greater focus and it all comes down to audience connection through line by line content and storyline development that resonates powerfully, stimulates appeal and leaves the reader with a highly impressionable and memorable experience.

Whether the written works of an author, poet, writer, business professional, marketing copy or a personal account, the composition must convey a compelling message that invokes reader response. The English language is for many an intricate, complex and confusing tangle of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions and adjectives…the list goes on and on and what it all comes down to is choosing the right words in a clean, concise presentation and in a distinctly characteristic way that bears the unique voice and brand of its author.

When clients come to me they do so because they have specific and varied needs relating to the final presentation of their written project. They want to put their best foot forward and rightly so. For the author, standing out means competing against a rapidly growing authorship community that has vastly greater publication resources and options than ever before. They can opt for traditional print or electronic formats through self-publishing or publishing house services in varied levels of content development, marketing and distribution. Choosing a proofing or editing professional to help ensure accuracy, error-free, polished conveyance of our story has become an integral part of the publication process.

The business or marketing professional can outsource the challenge and tedious, time-consuming process of transitioning a draft copy to an error-free, fluid, polished communication that compels the targeted audience to actionable, measurable response. The very business of audience engagement has evolved tremendously over the past few decades and very few individuals can take on the various elements of developing and fine tuning effective communications and authored works independently…it takes a team effort.

When the product is finally presentation or publication ready the next challenge is getting that product, that compelling story out to the masses, delivering the message to the right audience and marketplace, on or offline..and that takes expertise all of its own. That our written communications have to stand out above the rest is an understatement.

There are vast resources available for understanding best practices of the day in terms of content development, management and conveyance. The dynamics of website content, keyword and meta tagging selection and related applications are perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face in promoting our products and services online. Internet is the medium of choice as reaching a global audience for many is critical to the growth and success of their business or creative endeavors. I have favored numerous reference and resource providers over the years as an author, writer, poet and business person.

Amoung my favoured sources of current and ever-changing dynamics in the world of communications and publication are SiteProNews for breaking technological, social media and search engine news, one of the most-read sources of expertise in their field. As an author I frequent Writer’s Digest for its wealth of information author centric, Writers Market for author publication reference and resources.

For the author who needs a little help with the grammatical side of their storytelling a good reference resource is found in the Grammarly Handbook and whether wearing the hat of an author, writer, poet, editor or business professional I have an open resource such as Dictionary Reference at my fingertips while writing any creative or business composition. Having both dictionary and thesaurus components is critical in not only conveyance of error-free content but also to discover and implement alternative and unique ways of written expression through synonyms and metaphoric phraseology. It all makes for better, more compelling reading and response.

Last and perhaps most importantly of all, as communicators in whatever form of creative or business writing we need to ensure that we not only stimulate thought and response mechanisms in our readers’ experience…we need to connect with them through their emotional response to our message. Our content can be exemplary in its composition, highly informative and engaging but unless we can make a critical, personal connection with our readers in a way that they can relate we will never fully accomplish our publication objectives.

In terms of connection, ask yourself this…why do romance novels sell millions of copies annually, why do bestseller publications of any kind, whether mystery, fantasy, poetic, science fiction, motivational, historical, geographical, autobiographical or other blockbuster book, magazine or other published medium historically sell to the masses year after year, decade after decade in such huge numbers?

When we discover the key to touching the human spirit, mind, heart and soul, only then will we fully understand emotive writing, audience centric and letter perfect, for the ultimate reader and audience response…and that, my friends means powerful human connection.

© Don MacIver, Lasting Impressions Editing 2016

 

Demands for Perfection; Editorial Revision


Magnifier and the book

photo c/o Bing Search, originator unknown

In a world where time and money are perhaps the single greatest motivation for engagement of a critically productive day whether in our personal lives, on the job facilitating a process in the blue collar sense or at a desk where every word must be palpable and every decision a manifest component of a recipe or equation for success, demands upon our efforts for perfection were never more evident than they are today.

For anyone whose written presentation or proposal demands a concise, tangible engagement of its reading audience, the demands for a message that consummates flawless conveyance and its delivery cannot be understated. Ironically, it would seem, our educational system leaves many individuals ill-prepared to face the demands of our current day business/corporate environment.

There are fundamental elements of education that should never be left to chance or elective choosing when it comes to our preparedness to meet the demands of today’s workplace. The very nature of cognitive functionality as cogs in the wheel of that process is ever-evolving and the roles we play in the professional world are changing dynamically.

In simpler terms what does all this mean? Well, in terms of the composition of important documents, our level of preparedness for writing that all-star paper, document, proposal, presentation, promotion, intern/external business communication and even that single page composition or book of creative writing, will be the determining factor as to whether we create that piece as a stand alone author or team up with someone who can help bring it all together in a conveyance that is centric to its targeted audience.

Targeting….yes, most of us have heard and are very familiar with that word. Its connotations are open to interpretation depending on its application but much of today’s work world revolves around this word, this process predicated on the business objective or corporate mandate. The ‘targeted’ individual or group/business type of interest are the critical focus of a business campaign. The centric conveyance of our approach to that targeted audience is equally critical in their engagement.

As a professional editor it is paramount that we apply the highest of editorial standards having acquired a critical understanding of its process and the role we play in the pursuit of the client’s objectives. Initiative and flexibility are key elements and our adaptability to fulfil the needs of each individual project. We need to be illustrative, constructive, and at times, cosmetic in our analysis of client projects, receptive to their learned opinion while skilled in the process of communicating clearly any recommendations for a written project’s revision.

Where an individual may possess great skill sets in terms of the story or message they are conveying they may not have the critical knowledge needed for the mechanics of that document conveyance. Often times the delivery of an important message is lost in its conveyance. The metrics of the delivery falls flat on its target audience by virtue of its grammatical misgivings, stuttering flow, poor or inappropriate word choice, its language in terms of its intended audience, ambiguity and lack of logical connection start to finish.

Today’s editor must be cognizant of the substantive applications within a document, again as centric to the intended audience. We need to make a document functional for its reader in addition to ensuring the message and its delivery are consistent and correct in conveyance. We’ve all heard that ‘content is king’ at least from an author’s perspective and that has critical bearing in the business, corporate and marketing world as well. Document organization, design and style are essential elements in a document’s success formula and that’s where the professional editor comes in.

In a world where we seldom get second chances, the professional editor is a natural and fundamental extension of the developmental aspects of a written project where close scrutiny and engagement of the targeted recipient are critical elements in meeting the client’s objectives.

The editing process is a consultative and constructive analysis and application of the highest level of fundamental editorial standards pursuant to the client’s goals and objectives and in no sense adversarial. When the process and conveyance must be perfect, editorial considerations are paramount.

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