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February 16, 2010
Impressions Matter: Take Time to Write Well

Time out. Some of us may need to think about a brief refresher course in grammar and proofreading. While pressures mount from cutbacks to media and PR firms, the number of grammatical and typographical errors have been increased both online and in print.

This is alarming because writing is a craft, and we are judged, in part, by the coherence of our products. Don't let people stumble over typos.

Evidence? Edward Schumacher-Matos, the ombudsman at the The Miami Herald, decided to send a recent edition of The Herald to a veteran teacher he knows, Elaine Kenzel, and asked her to proofread the already-published paper.

She found 133 errors, marked them up,  and said "she was surprised that there weren't more mistakes, given the tremendous amount of copy, much of which is written and edited quickly on deadline."

True, some of the errors were "stylistic, such as beginning a sentence with 'but' or 'and'". Others were more serious "and may reflect what inevitably happens as The Herald – like newspapers across the country -- has cut copy editors to save costs."

Stories that were once edited two to three times now are edited once or twice, and mistakes slip through.

"Today's copy editors," Schumacher-Matos writes, "are multitaskers who design pages, pick wire stories, and process them for the Web -- all in addition to the traditional duties of line-editing, trimming to perfectly fill space and writing headlines."

Such editorial multi-tasking is probably common at many PR firms as well. The potential for carelessness in a craft of historic coherence -- writing -- grows. 

While some grammatical errors are "subjective," rules still apply for writing to remain clear and coherent. Readers shouldn't be forced back over a passage to confirm they got it right. 

Take the time to write and proofread with care. Don't forget the help the AP Stylebook can provide. It's now online, including an iPhone app version



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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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