Saturday, August 18, 2007

Two Tips from the Big Dogs

I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret: sometimes I read Problogger. I tried not to be a sheep. I resisted the pull. But with all of those guest bloggers there is just so much good content over there that I can't always stay away. Today, I weakened again.

Glen Stansberry has an excellent post there about how to become a better writer. The post boils down to a single point: read great writing. The rest is filler about why it's important for a blogger to write better, with a few examples at the end. Mr. Stansberry dismisses the sort of pristine grammar that I promote and allows for the occasional error. This blog didn't make the list, in case you wondered.

Grammar Girl has this to say about ending a sentence with a preposition. I work for a grammar geek as retentive as I am and we regularly say things like, “On what did you step?” I dislike that example because it calls to mind certain distasteful incidents involving heavily-treaded snow boots and my back yard. I've used that sentence when speaking to my children, however.

If I can recover this post from its digression, I intend to point out that I find the argument that people don't talk that way specious. I talk that way. People I know talk that way. But I agree with the general point, that ending a sentence with a preposition in normal speech is allowable. It doesn't matter if I ask, “On whose desk did you set it”? or “Whose desk did you set it on?” All I care about is where the darn papers went.

If you're writing for someone else, however, keep your audience in mind. An ad that is striving for a casual, friendly tone allows more flex in your grammar. A technical paper or formal business letter requires a more rigid grammatical structure. While experts may agree that you may end your sentence with a preposition in certain cases, it still raises a flag (or at least an eyebrow) when done in a formal piece.

In short, my tips for today consist of two things: read good writing and know your audience. I'm not breaking any ground but they are both critical to writing well.




"I've never heard anyone talk that way" doesn't logistically work all that well, either, considering the great divergences among different regions and even social subsets means that no one's heard every speaking method.

Then again, my blood sugar's plummeting, so maybe I'm not making much sense.



That's also true. Your dialect and regional quirks don't make a universal grammatical construction.