Saturday, July 28, 2007

Writing with Clarity and Direction

I ran across an enormous site called Lousy that has a fairly comprehensive review of the parts of speech and the rules that apply thereto. They also have a good set of pages on common mistakes in grammar, including one on split infinitives.

Splitting your infinitives is common and has become accepted in casual speech and writing. It's easier to say, “Who are you talking to?” than “To whom are you speaking?” The second is grammatically correct but would sound stilted in settings other than formal business settings.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of the common usage makes people forget that it is, in fact, incorrect. People become accustomed to the way that they speak to each other without thinking about grammar. They forget the rules and, when they find themselves in a different setting, are either unsure of themselves or do not realize that they are making errors.

If grammatical mistakes are so common, why does it matter if people make them? First, because even the most intelligent person can sound like a twit if they say something like, “Bob and me adjusted the plasma chamber.” And second, because using words correctly helps you to communicate clearly.

It is far easier for people to understand your meaning, as a writer, if you use words properly. Your readers do not have body language and inflection to guide them to your intended destination; all they get is the words on the page or screen. Your job is to lead them from Point A to Point B and perhaps a few more points down the line. If they are confused by your language they won't be able to follow you.

When you're writing, use clear words and clean grammar. The occasional mistake will happen – no one is perfect. But remember to edit your work for clarity and sense. Yet again, coming back to something you've written after a few days will help you to follow your own path and ensure that it leads somewhere rather than wandering around a swamp of split infinitives and unnecessary commas.