Week 14 (18/11): How the Zen of punctuation and grammar leads to self-editing nirvana

Photo: Ken Whytock/CC/flickr

BY MARK GATELY

Fine tuning your final assessment task presents the perfect opportunity to look at the importance of self-editing.

Polishing your feature means not only ensuring that your writing is concise and effective – it is also the time for locating and eliminating spelling and/or grammatical mistakes.

The writing process as a scene from the Matrix:

  • The writer is the agent firing his weapon – a stream of bullets intended to hit a target
  • The editor is Neo – slowing down time so that he can examine each bullet and pluck any defective slugs/words out of the equation.

Being able to change your mindset to that granular approach can help you avoid reading over spelling mistakes and grammatical glitches. Here’s an excellent explanation of how the way we read and write contributes to inevitable typos.

Pro tip

  • Read through your piece multiple times
  • At least once in a different format such as a website preview or hard copy

Grammar

The rules of the road for writing are a vexed subject so it is important to have a firm grasp of those rules. 

Sadly, the rights and wrongs of punctuation and grammar can be hard to get a grip on because of the paltry education we have all received in those areas – and the fact that English is an eccentric and slippery beast.

These four books are excellent guides to developing good grammar game:

They will help you get your commas, apostrophes and hyphens in order while also showing you a few next-level tricks with colons and semi-colons.

Common error: Mixing up the singular and plural

  • The subject of a sentence should agree with the verb (“It is raining” and “they are running”)
  • Collective nouns represent a particular challenge
  • The correct forms are “The Government is” and “politicians are”
  • Sport and entities such as bands are major sources of confusion
  • Beware any time there is an “s” at the end of the noun

This article and accompanying video (with bonus captions in Vietnamese) outlines the problem and when it might be permissible to mix the two.

Spelling

  • Grab a dictionary whenever you have doubts
  • Don’t be afraid to check even the most familiar of words
  • A quick Google is also quite acceptable
  • Doing either has the added benefit of enabling you to check on definitions as general usage can lead you to use the wrong word
  • Be aware of autocorrect as the diabolical joker in the pack.

Style

When you go to work in the media you will encounter another source of vexation and confusion – the style guide.

This sets out the way an organisation wants its writers to negotiate various hot-button issues such as grammar, spelling and numbers but also its philosophy and approach to usage such as how organisations or individuals are referred to and commercial considerations handled.

The source of all the angst is a misunderstanding – the style guide isn’t ruling on what is right and wrong, it’s setting up a framework that ensures every article is written in the same manner.

It’s the difference between letting players wear whatever jersey they want at training and sending them out in the same playing strip on game day.

Task 3 reminder

Your 800-word feature or 2-3 minute radio feature is now due as is your reflection (300-500 words).

Please consult the task instructions and assessment checklist in the subject guide to ensure you have fulfilled all requirements.

Remember if you’re having trouble and need extra time to get in contact.

Extra reading

Au Revoir but Not Adieu is a fascinating account of a New York Times columnist’s ethos and his life in journalism but it also contains valuable insights into what it takes to write an editorial. Also, with thanks to Elisabeth, Leland Nally’s deep dive into Jeffrey Epstein’s black book is a wonderful example of investigative long-form journalism.

Author: veritychambers

Journalist and teacher

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