Grammar Nazis Rejoice!

Microphone iconThere’s a new kind of typo in town.

Do you use dictation to enter text? Here are my thoughts.

Dictated Corrected
First, there were the typos and legitimate spelling and grammar errors that we made when using keyboard. First, there were the typos and legitimate spelling and grammar errors that we made when using a keyboard.
Then there were the typos common Austin “aided” but auto correct, to deliver often hilarious text messages when we attempted to key in text on our phones and mobile devices. Then there were the typos common , Austin often “aided” but by auto correct AutoCorrect, to deliver often hilarious text messages when we attempted to key in text on our phones and mobile devices.
And now, there are the typos and other Errors generated buy are growing use of dictation on our mobile devices and our computers. And now, there are the typos and other Errors errors generated buy are by our growing use of dictation on our mobile devices and our computers.
Are used dictation quite frequently on my iPhone and iPad. Sometimes, the device clearly understands what I’m saying and in exactly what I would’ve typed. Other times, it gets things completely screwed up to the point where it’s impossible two even imagine what I might’ve been trying To say. I’m trying, more and more, to use dictation on my computer. I find that I don’t type quite as well as I used to and I’m not sure why. It seems to me that using technology to get the job done should be a good idea. But every once in a while, I let some text go without proofreading it. The results could be something like what you’re seeing on the left side of the stage–raw, Dictated text. I found it necessary to provide a translation in the right column. Are used I use dictation quite frequently on my iPhone and iPad. Sometimes, the device clearly understands what I’m saying and in enters exactly what I would’ve typed. Other times, it gets things completely screwed up to the pointwhere it’s impossible two to even imagine what I might’ve been trying To to say. I’m trying, more and more, to use dictation on my computer. I find that I don’t type quite as well as I used to and I’m not sure why. It seems to me that using technology to get the job done should be a good idea. But every once in a while, I let some text go without proofreading it. The results could be something like what you’re seeing on the left side of the stage page–raw, Dictated dictated text. I found it necessary to provide a translation in the right column.
Of course, sometimes the errors are so minor that they really do resemble typos. For example, this morning I dictated a text message to a friend of mine and I used the word to. The version of the word to that I meant was T00, but my phone typed in TW oh. If I hadn’t caught and fix that and if my friend or a grammar Nazi I give him ammunition to rip me. Of course, sometimes the errors are so minor that they really do resemble typos. For example, this morning I dictated a text message to a friend of mine and I used the word to too. The version of the word to that I meant was T00 TOO, but my phone typed in TW oh TWO. If I hadn’t caught and fix fixed that and if my friend or were a grammar Nazi, I I’d give him ammunition to rip rib me.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: when you see a grammar error on screen, consider that it might not have been the person entering the text who made the error. Instead, it may have been the machine taking down his or her dictation. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: when you see a grammar error on screen, consider that it might not have been the person entering the text who made the error. Instead, it may have been the machine taking down his or her dictation.
This column was dictated on an iMac running OS 10 Yosemite using the built-in microphone. This column was dictated on an iMac running OS 10 X Yosemite using the built-in microphone.

Thoughts?

On Limited Literacy

Is it wrong to be prejudiced against people who don’t even try to be literate?

I mentioned in my blog that I sometimes allow rated helicopter pilots to fly my aircraft on ferry flights for my flight cost. This is a substantial savings over what they’d pay to rent an aircraft to build time. In addition, they get the chance to fly a long cross-country flight (usually around 10 hours over two days) with an experienced pilot.

I get e-mails from people who are interested in this opportunity. The most recent arrived yesterday:

Yes sir i was intrested in biulding some time i am a commercial rated pilot with 250hr most in a robinson 22 i really need this chance to fly thank you for your time.

Although he managed to capitalize the first letter of the first word and put a period after the last word everything in between is a mess. Spelling? Punctuation? Is this what our schools are churning out?

Keep in mind that he sent me this message using the contact form on my Web site. A Web site that displays my name in the browser’s address bar when viewed. A web site that includes my name, bio, and other information in all kinds of places. Yet he addressed me as “sir.” I figured he’d somehow missed that I was a woman.

Still, the whole message put me in a foul mood. My response got to the point:

Do you have an R44 endorsement?

Maria

Without an R44 endorsement and 10 hours of flight time in R44s, you cannot fly an R44 with a passenger (even me) aboard. No exceptions.

Note that I included my name, just in case he really did miss it the first time.

His reply:

no sir im afraid i do not have it i would be willing to get one if you could let me know what it would take to get one thanks for your time

He didn’t even bother trying to get capitalization or punctuation right this time. Perhaps his shift key broke.

And I wasn’t about to let him get away with “sir” again. I replied:

First of all, I’m not a “sir.” Maria is a woman’s name. You sent an e-mail message to the woman who owns and operates the company and flies the aircraft.

If you don’t have an R44 endorsement, you cannot fly the aircraft. I’m sorry. If you want to get an R44 endorsement, talk to a flight school that operates R44s.

Maria

I’m bugged by this exchange. I’m bugged that someone bordering on illiterate — or too damn lazy to even try to get his spelling, punctuation, or grammar right — has the nerve to ask if he can fly my aircraft. There’s no way in hell I’d let anyone who communicates like that at the controls.

Being a commercial pilot is more than just taking flight lessons and getting the appropriate ratings. If this guy can’t write, how do I know he can read? That he understands the training materials he was given? That he took the time to read the pilot operating manual?

You might argue that he must have because he passed a written and oral test — two of each, in fact — to get as far as he did. But how do I know the quality of his CFI or pilot examiner? Or in the case of sheer laziness, if he’s too lazy to create two short e-mail messages written in proper grammar, why should I do him any favors at all? Frankly, I think even responding to him was going beyond the call of duty here.

Am I wrong to believe that written communication should be created with some semblance to proper grammar? Am I wrong to thumb my nose at people who fail to meet even the lowest tests of their ability to communicate in writing by composing two or three complete sentences?

Is this what our schools are churning out?

Writing Tips: Master the Basics

If there’s only one thing you do before starting a career as a writer, this is it.

Today, I’m doing a presentation for Wickenburg High School’s Journalism class. I suspect that they’re a bunch of seniors who are interested in journalism or some other branch of writing. Although I’m not a journalist, I feel qualified to speak to them about careers in writing. And since being asked to do this presentation, I’ve been giving the topics I want to discuss a lot of thought.

The Basics

The best piece of advice I can offer anyone considering a career in writing is to master the basics. I mean that quite literally: master the basics of writing. This includes the following:

  • Spelling. Yes, I know that there are spelling checkers in word processors — and even blog offline composition tools like the one I’m using to write this. And no, I’m not saying that you need to know how to spell every word you might ever write absolutely perfectly. But I am saying that you need basic spelling skills. This will help ensure that you don’t misspell a word that spells another word (and, thus, won’t be caught by a spelling checker) or use the wrong word (then instead of than, your instead of you’re, etc.).
  • Want more tips about grammar?
    Read “Grammar is Important

    Grammar. Again, perfect grammar isn’t an absolute requirement, but a writer’s grammar should certainly be much better than average. Don’t use the grammar checker in a word processor — if you need to rely on that, you may as well give up on any idea of being a writer. The best way to learn grammar is to read and study good writing. I’m not talking about Dickens here. And I’m certainly not talking about blogs. I’m talking about The New York Times, NewsWeek, and other quality publications that are written and edited by professionals. Don’t get the idea that grammar rules are meant to be broken so they don’t matter. You need to learn the rules before you can break them.

  • Punctuation. This goes with grammar. Punctuation is pretty easy. If you can’t master it, you’re not going to impress many editors.
  • Style. Here’s where things start drifting away from what you can learn in basic English classes. Every writer should be able to develop his or her own style or voice. This is something that comes with practice — I don’t think it can be taught. Style includes vocabulary and word usage, as well as the rhythm of your sentences and paragraphs. I believe that the only way a writer can develop his or her own style is by writing and then rewriting. A lot. Every day. Once you’ve got your own style, you should be able to go the next step, which is to emulate (okay, copy) someone else’s style. In fact, a good writer should be able to write in whatever style he or she is called upon to write in.

Here’s the deal. If you try to start a career as a writer and you haven’t mastered the basics, there isn’t much of a chance of you getting a job as a writer. No editor is going to want to deal with submitted work that is fraught with basic writing errors. It’ll take too long to edit.

And if you expect to be a freelance writer, your chances of getting published are slim if you can’t submit an error-free manuscript.

It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you want to do — newspaper journalist, technical writer, advertising copywriter, short story author, novelist. If you can’t write, you’re not going to get work as a writer. It’s as simple as that.

A Story with a Point

And to finish this piece off, I’ll tell you — and that high school class — a true story. Back in 1978, when I started college, English 101 and 102 were freshman year requirements. These two courses took what we supposedly learned in high school to the next level.

I wasn’t very interested in taking English — I wanted to take a creative writing class instead. Fortunately, my college offered a way out. I could write an essay about a topic of interest to me and submit that for evaluation. if the essay was good enough, I wouldn’t have to take either freshman English class.

I wrote the essay. It was about how high school fails to prepare young people for life. I was 17 at the time — please don’t do the math — and already thinking about these things. The essay was a hit. I was exempted from freshman English.

This story has a point. Before I got to college, I had already developed above average writing skills. This served me well throughout high school and college — I aced almost every report and essay test question, mostly because I already knew how to organize and present my thoughts in writing far better than most other students.

These are the kinds of skills every writer needs to develop before beginning a writing career. If you want to be a writer, master the basics now.