Grammar. It matters.

I read an article today about a chief of police who is resigning his position. Not that earth-shattering a revelation, really, but the letter with which he announced his retirement was quite, um, direct, calling the city council “incompetent,” among other things.

I’ll allow you to read the letter yourself; my point here is not about the content of the letter, but rather how well it was (or, more accurately, wasn’t) written. I don’t pretend to know much about the situation the chief is describing; I live in the same county but not the same city, and I don’t keep up on events there so much. I’m not here commenting on how accurately the chief portrays the political and financial climate in his city, nor on how accurately he describes the qualifications of the city councilpersons. None of that has anything to do with my point.

And that point, finally, is this: When you write for public consumption, whether it’s a press release, a letter to the parents of students in your class, or a VERY public letter of resignation, you should have someone proofread your work BEFORE it’s published.

As I read this letter, I was impressed by the authenticity of the chief’s feelings, and by his candor as he shared them with his audience. However, the awkward sentence structure, the apostrophe in the word “fly’s,” and other stylistic and mechanical errors took away from the impact of the letter. Instead of the “righteously-outraged-public-servant” vibe he was probably going for, I got a “OK-what-exactly-was-he-trying-to-say-and-why-didn’t-he-correct-this-before-he-sent-it” feeling.

The lesson? HOW you say what you’re saying matters just as much as WHAT you’re saying, and sloppy mechanics make you look dumb. Maybe that doesn’t matter much in the comments section of the newspaper, but it ought to matter in the writing of professionals- in any profession.

PS: I realize that a post of this sort invites you to be critical of my own grammar and usage. Please, if I have made errors point them out. While I believe grammar is important, I’m no perfect grammarian myself. If I have erred, mea culpa. I hope only that my errors serve to help you, gentle reader, to improve you own writing.

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1 comment so far

  1. OCMarisa on

    I’m usually a major grammar Nazi, but for some reason this didn’t bother me. Maybe because it reflects something written in the heat of the moment of a very volatile situation. I used to cover this city and this department as a reporter (long before all this drama), so I’ve been following this with keen interest! Anyway, who would he have got to proofread it, Lobdell (former Times reporter hired on a contract to do positive pr for the city)?! 😉

    Very good points you make, though. I’d normally be right there with ya!


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