By Walter Boomsma,
For want of a nail… most folks know that for want of a nail a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a battle was lost. For want of a battle, a war was lost… I suspect the original author of this quote was attempting to demonstrate the importance of attention to detail.
In my real estate licensing classes, I often encourage students to “Google” the “Million Dollar Comma.” It’s an interesting story reported in the New York Times about how a misplaced comma in a fourteen-page contract made a one-million-dollar difference in the interpretation of that contract.
Scary stuff! I like to contrast that with my high school English teacher’s observation that the importance of a solid knowledge of grammar was ultimately about communication—including a recognition that knowing the rules meant knowing when to break those rules in the interest of good communication.
Lastly, I would note that I miss Nancy Clark for many reasons, not the least of which was that we could engage in intense discussions regarding things like commas.
But my point for this column is that attention to detail is important in communication. As the editor of the Bulletin, one of my jobs is to, well, edit! It’s a responsibility I try to take seriously, knowing that communication and grammar are not an exact science. I often use the “Grammarly” grammar software and chuckle when it starts inserting commas that I don’t think are necessary—or omitting them where I think they belong. It’s like arguing with the editor. In the publishing world, editing is time-consuming and labor-intensive, often involving work being returned to the author. In my role, there simply isn’t time to carefully edit every bit of news, director’s columns, and events that are submitted.
So this is my occasional appeal for help. While it’s not grammatically correct, when news, articles, and events arrive the most important thing is to “git ‘er done.” I’m not suggesting we change that.
But it would help so much if submitters would, at a minimum, run their work through a spell-checking program. Yes, Grammarly will do that—but the program doesn’t automatically fix the errors. Every correction necessary means time and, often delays.
While not a spelling or grammar error, I recently had an event submitted with what was clearly a wrong date (unless we have a time machine). A closer examination showed there was no time, no address given for the Grange, and no “contact for more information.” It took several emails back and forth to complete the calendar listing.
This becomes even more important when sending information to the media. The odds of your submitted article or event being published increase significantly when you send “copy ready” information without typos, spelling errors, etc. Given most word processing programs have a spell check feature, this is really not an unreasonable request. Most editors (including me) do not expect contributors to know the AP style manual—if that were true, the need for editors would drop significantly. But it helps the editor so much if submitters review and correct as much as they can.
Many of us learned to hit the space bar twice after typing a period. It took me a long time to break that habit—word-processing, websites, and desktop publishing really don’t like those two spaces. It’s not unusually for me to spend some time deleting spaces in submissions.
I can certainly attest to how difficult it is to edit one’s own work. It wasn’t that long ago I created a flyer for the Volunteer Fair and forgot to include a date! Our minds see what they expect to see—not necessarily what’s there (or not). When you write something for publication, having someone else read it can have great value.
Some folks will question whether or spelling and grammar mistakes really make a difference. Research shows that many people are distracted by them and will miss your message if the basics aren’t correct. When the kids at school hand me their work, I almost always ask, “Is this your best work and are you proud of it?” Many times they will silently take the paper back and return to their seats. In the fast-paced world we live in, a few extra minutes to “git ‘er done correctly” can make a big difference.
“Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”