Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Why good grammar matters

I read this post on LinkedIn by Donna McTavish who asks the question, "In a world where tweeting and texting is the norm, should we still care about grammar?" McTavish is the director of English for Business Limited. She offers her own thoughts about an article that was published in Harvard Business Review concerning a company's refusal to hire people who exhibited poor grammar skills. McTavish reviewed the HBR blog commentary that followed the article. Many people questioned the value of grammar if it wasn't necessary or relevant to their specific job function. In fact for many employers it isn't necessarily a problem if the average employee doesn't understand proper syntax, faulty parallelism, or subject-verb agreement. It's disappointing when they are complacent about their ignorance and are flagrant about it. The bottom line is grammar may indeed have far greater economic influence than we might surmise. Check out the full article here.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mark Steyn & Ezra Levant on free speech - Part 1 of 5

Ezra Levant is a Canadian media personality, conservative political activist, journalist and best-selling author. He is the founder and former publisher of the Western Standard, is a lawyer, broadcaster and columnist for Sun Media and has written several books on politics and public policy. He has become known for his involvement in several legal controversies on free speech issues. Other issues that he has dealt with include multiculturalism, immigration, and economic deregulation. In this video he debates free speech with another well known political commentator, Mark Steyn. As two of my favourite authors and commentators, Levant and Steyn offer stimulating and articulate discussion.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The dreaded dangling or misplaced modifer

Image courtesy of Don’t Dangle Your Participleby Vanita Oelschlager & Mike DeSantis, illustrator Vanita Books  5/01/2014  978-1-938164-02-6
I'm sure many of us have been guilty at one time or other of crafting a sentence that includes a dangling or misplaced modifier. Don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds. In fact, it can often result in quite a hilarious, but unintended meaning.

You've probably seen many signs in your travels that have caused you to pause and reflect on what you've just read. You know what I mean. Examples abound and include road signs that caution us about heavy pedestrian traffic or if our dog poos in the park to put it in the litter bin. The dog or the poo? And are we talking about overweight pedestrians or a large volume of pedestrian traffic. 

Take a look at the sentence in the image above. It should read: 

While riding his skateboard in the park, Lester almost ran into a deer. 

The way the sentence is constructed, the writer incorrectly implies the deer was riding the skateboard.

Sometimes it appears as though principles of grammar are complicated and tricky to learn. If we take the approach of tackling one concept at a time with the goal of mastering the application of each rule as it relates to the art of writing, navigating the fundaments of grammar becomes less arduous.

Simply put, dangling or misplaced modifiers refer to the incorrect placement of modifying words and phrases. To avoid making this mistake, place your modifiers as close as possible to the word they're modifying. If you focus on the exact meaning of what you're trying to convey, it will be easier to spot inadvertently placed modifiers. Here are a couple of examples: 

Dangling:    To drive safely, a good set of brakes is required.

Correct:       To drive safely, you need a good set of brakes.

Misplaced:  Graeme watched the moon rise from his hammock.

Correct:        From his hammock, Graeme watched the moon rise.

Avoiding the word "should" in corporate communications

It's a debate among corporate communicators. Should we abandon the word "should" in our corporate copy? The mere inference of obligation casts an inflexible tone to our content that's not necessarily welcomed or appreciated by our audience. In fact, my employer rightly admonishes our use of the word. If we are looking to make a connection with the reader, we don't gain credibility by imposing our will. If the goal is to encourage audiences to accept our recommendations and buy our products, we are far more likely to succeed when we speak in a friendly, helpful manner. I was reminded of this by my supervisor who asked me to think about replacing should with "might consider."

It makes sense. I put myself in the reader's place. Do I want someone to implore me to take some required action? No, I'd rather be shown the options, how I might benefit or learn from the message, and possible suggestions for how I may improve my situation. I think I'm smart enough to make an educated decision. When a readers see the word "should" the predominant image they receive is that either they aren't doing what's right, or the writer by implication knows more than them. It turns out I'm not alone. Check out a similar post by Gwen Chynoweth, a vice president at a Minneapolis-based PR firm.