By Ekta R. Garg
April 20, 2015
On a wall in my bedroom hangs a poster that starts, “Let’s eat kids.” More than one person has looked at the poster and done a double take: the exterminator; the cleaning ladies; our maintenance man. At 5’2.5” I don’t think I pose much of a physical threat, but after seeing the poster I’m sure these people worry about what might happen to them in the short time they have to be in our home.
When they get to the second sentence on the poster, it starts to make sense. The second sentence reads, “Let’s eat, kids.” The poster finishes with the exhortation, “Use a comma. Save lives.”
I saw the poster on Facebook last year, and it made me laugh out loud. As a freelance editor, I see dozens of grammar errors (sometimes all in one manuscript.) Although I’ve had the poster for almost a year, it still makes me smile.
(Maybe the smile comes partially from the fact that I actually have kids of my own. On the bad days, when the kids decide in that evil way that children do to give me fits, I can look at the poster and my smile becomes a wicked grin. I can be a little evil myself and not get arrested.
As a writer the poster reminds me of the importance of details. Big details matter, of course; I can’t write about a blonde character in chapter 1 of a story who mysteriously turns into a brunette in chapter 6, unless hair dye plays a significant role. But I also let the poster remind me of the little details—the importance that commas, or other punctuation, play in helping my readers parse my stories.
Details matter, and when you’re working in a field that operates on details the writing matters even more.
Last month Grammarly.com, the website that offers users a free grammar checker, posted the findings of a study it did of more than 400 freelance professionals on the site Elance.com. The study team analyzed the ratings freelancers received against the number of writing errors those freelancers made in their online profiles and found this: the fewer the errors a freelancer made, the higher the ratings the freelancer received.
Freelance writers made fewer errors than other freelance professionals (think IT or sales.) The study also examined the amount of money writers earned on various jobs or projects. Better writers earned more per job.
People often think that a writer doesn’t really need any training. Just turn on the computer or flip to a blank page on a legal pad and let the “muse” have at it. In point of fact, good writers work just as hard as anyone else at honing their skills. They attend workshops; they do writing exercises; they read as much as they can about the craft and the work of other writers.
Good writing doesn’t only include creative writing, however. Dozens of articles across the web point out the necessity of effective communication. In the workplace saying exactly what you mean can help you and your employer save time and money and can elevate you compared to your colleagues (http://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-good-grammar-workplace-10432.html).
People fight grammar issues in all professional outlets, such as marketing, law, and software productivity. Administrators use a variety of methods to encourage the correct usage of commas and pronouns with varying success, and the blame goes as much to Twitter and texting as to a younger generation that cares more about the content than its delivery (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303410404577466662919275448).
If you’re in a field that requires a lot of written communication, take the time to show your respect for the communication and its recipient by paying attention to the details. Those details may seem small, but they add up in a big way.
(And the next time you’re having a bad day, just think about eating your kids. Then call them to the dinner table and enjoy a lovely meal with them and not of them. As the poster dictates, commas, and all other punctuation, save lives!)