Thursday, September 23, 2010

Readers can’t help judging you by your writing (2)

Readers can’t help judging you by your writing: your diction and grammar.

This is especially true of readers who have never read your work before. When they first see your work, they are in a hurry to decide whether to keep reading you. Diction and grammar mistakes tend to be conspicuous; if you make a lot of these mistakes, you help readers decide against you.*

Here’s a real-world example. To analyze it, I will use what I call “The Dale Carnegie Method.” I’ll show you a bit of what the author wrote; then, in brackets, my reaction to that bit; and so on.


The other day, I was looking for an online glossary of typesetting terms. I opened Google and typed “typesetting terminology.” I chose the first of the search results and was forwarded to a glossary published by K International, a language translation service.

In the opening line, the author of the glossary addresses her readers as “you guys.”

[She uses childish diction and apparently doesn’t realize that it is out of place in a grown-up endeavor such as publishing a glossary or running an international company.]

The author calls her glossary a “list.”

[This is another childish mannerism. Because the “list” is a list of specialized terms and each listed term is followed by a definition, it is a glossary by definition.]

The author says her glossary is “Only for you guys.”

[She implies exclusivity, but everyone with a Web browser -- about one billion people -- could look at her glossary.]

The author states that the glossary includes “all the Typesetting Terms.”

[Why does she use those initial caps? And I notice that she’s claiming comprehensiveness with that “all.” This is another sign of childishness; no grown-up compiler of a glossary would make such a foolish claim. I’m only on the first line of this glossary, and already I doubt whether the author knows what she is doing. Well, let’s look up a word or two. I’ll start with A and look up agate.]

As I begin to scroll down, I cannot help noticing that the first term in her glossary is “Authors Alteration.”

[She has omitted the apostrophe. Is this just a case of careless spelling and proofreading, or has she actually never seen anyone spell that term correctly? I doubt she has spent any time in or near a typesetting operation.]

The glossary does not include agate.

[That’s enough for me; a purportedly comprehensive glossary that does not include the first word I look up. With all due respect to the author as a person, I have to judge her on what evidence I see here. She appears to be immature, careless and ignorant. I’m going back to Google and look at the next glossary.]

The Takeaway: Your readers can’t help judging you by your writing. This is especially true of readers who have never seen your work before. They are in a hurry; they will judge you by your first few lines or (at most) first few paragraphs. That’s where you should be on your best writing behavior. That’s the place to show that you are a diligent and well-educated grown-up.

See disclaimer.

*Bestselling author Seth Godin pointed this out in a thoughtful blog post last year.

No comments:

Post a Comment