Grammar goofs: Even the pros make mistakes

Has the Golden Age of Proofread Publications passed? These days, the fastidious reader can’t and shouldn’t expect perfection even when flipping through The New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

“A new wave of start-ups are cashing in on the next stage of the Internet.”

What’s wrong with that sentence? Worse, what’s discouraging about it?

Or this one:

“”A forum of employees then work together to make desire a reality.””

What’s wrong is the disagreement, in the first example, between singular subject “wave” and plural verb “are cashing in,” and in the second, between “”forum”” and “”work.”” What’s discouraging is that the first sentence appeared in Newsweek, while the second came courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

I used to consider The Wall Street Journal a paragon for writing excellence. I held Newsweek and The New York Times right up there, too.

I have to admit my dismay when I happened upon this in a recent Times restaurant review: “None require reservations.” You may argue that the noun none can sometimes take a plural verb, but not in this case. Requires was the required verb.

I wish I could say these instances were exceptions, but grammatical errors and typos of all sorts are easier than ever to spot in the publications many of us rely on to maintain high editorial standards. And that’s too bad, because readers assume the editors are getting it right. If the editors are not, then is it a matter of oversight, ignorance or downright sloppiness? Or has the publishing industry’s perceived need for eagle-eyed proofreaders and copy editors—let alone flawless text—been downsized along with its staffing?

Those of us in the communications field will forgive the odd mistake, but that usually will depend on the source. For instance, we might dismiss the use of its’ if it appeared in, say, an ad for a plumbing service. Place that same grammatical goof in a brochure promoting writing seminars, and you’ve got to question how reliable those seminars will be. If a professional communicator’s organization can’t be bothered to mind the language, then who can?

A colleague of mine, bemoaning the declining state of grammar and punctuation among our peers, declared that “the price of admission (to be a professional communicator) is knowing how to write well.” In other words, she said, if you don’t fully grasp the fundamentals of spelling and grammar, you have no business in the business. That may seem like a harsh statement, but it’s one that’s hard to refute. Those are the skills all of us should have mastered in school and brought with us to the work place.

Because of the daily demands placed on communicators and the extent of their audience—whether it be internal communications or external, the job is no place for basic training. After all, would you hire a landscaper who couldn’t distinguish an exotic plant from a common weed? Probably not. There’s an expectation that comes with billing oneself as a professional; the pro is expected to know the difference.

Even so, mistakes happen—even to the most seasoned pro. But there are simple measures you can take to help keep them at a minimum, if not eliminate them completely.

Walk away from it. Take a break from your writing. Set your draft aside for a spell, then come back to it with fresh eyes. That extra time between your final edit and submitting the piece for publication can save time in the long run—especially when you pick up errors that previously eluded you.

Send it to a peer for preview. This is the ol’ “”second pair of eyes”” trick that you’ve heard a gazillion times, and which is particularly useful when your “”fresh eyes”” aren’t so fresh anymore. You’ve heard it a gazillion times, because it works, by golly. And you’ll be surprised by what that new set of eyes can notice.

Give it one more go. Review it again. Slowly. Carefully. Check for noun/verb agreement, use of adjectives vs. adverbs, spelling of names and places, punctuation, style and everything else in-between.

Then take a deep breath, let ‘er rip and hope for the best. The very best.

Everything we publish sets an example, and our readers are paying attention. They’re expecting us—relying on us—to apply the language correctly. And they’re expecting the very best. We mustn’t let them down.

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