More often than not, telling people I’m an editor immediately puts them on the defensive.
People apologize to me all the time when they realize they’ve committed a typo or forgotten a punctuation mark. For the most part, I really don’t mind. I don’t wield the grammar hammer. I give people the benefit of the doubt. They know better; they just slipped up. When editing my authors’ blog posts or manuscripts, I try to make corrections as subtly as possible. I want people to feel empowered to write freely, and I know that the fear of messing up (and the fear of being attacked by grammar nazis) stops too many people from expressing themselves in writing.
But grammar and punctuation do matter.
My friend and fellow editor recently shared this article, “Are you a grammar pedant? This might be why” by David Shariatmadari. In it, he writes about a recent study that found a correlation between introversion and a judgmental attitude toward typos and grammos. Introverts tend to be less accepting of mistakes, perhaps because they “have more sensitivity to variability,” as linguist Robin Queen says.
Personally, I’m highly suspicious of the study. But regardless of whether it’s true, it did make me reconsider how I feel about typos and grammos. I realized that there are times when I absolutely do make judgments based on an author’s clarity and precision in writing.
I’m not going to judge you for an honest mistake, but here’s when your writing matters, and when you need to do your best to prevent typos and grammos:
When you’re selling something.
If you’re marketing a product and there’s an error in your copy, I immediately assume that the product itself has less value. Unless it’s something I really want, you’ve almost completely destroyed my interest in it.
When you’re pitching something.
If you’re writing to ask me for a favor or pitching an idea, I expect your A game. This is a matter of respect. If I feel that I wasn’t worth the extra time it would take you to do a quick edit of your email or proposal, I’ll still read it, but I’m much less favorably inclined to help you out.
When you’re trying to influence someone.
This is particularly important for bloggers and authors. If you’re trying to persuade me to see things from your point of view, any mistake will detract from your message, no matter what the message is.
To put it another way, mistake-free writing helps to convince me that you are trustworthy, respectful, and conscientious.
Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert—although I’m really closer to the middle of the spectrum. Shariatmadari wrote:
Two forces compete within me when I see a grammo or worse. As a linguist, I know that meaning is use – so, if lots of people use “disinterested” to mean “uninterested”, well, that’s now part of its meaning. Error is the engine of language change. Error is inevitable.
But at the same time, I feel something akin to having a stone in my shoe when I see a mistake. It acts as an irritant. If I had to relate that to my introversion, then I would say a sense of order and predictability is important to me. I like it when things are under control.
I agree completely. Mistakes are normal, and sometimes they’re even good. Everyone makes them—including me. But don’t let an honest, fixable mistake undermine your authority and trustworthiness as an author.