Student work by Newt Cox.
Gail Marie is a proofreader at McKinney and was gracious enough to grant us a quick interview. If you have a moment to spare, vote for her SXSW panel proposal and follow her on Twitter and Tumblr. Many thanks to Gail!
Between Twitter, Facebook, and text messages, it seems like most people nowadays adopt a pretty casual attitude towards grammar. Do you think it’s still important to use proper grammar in this day and age — or is it it sufficient just to get your message across?
Yes, many people have adopted a casual attitude toward grammar in their tweets, posts and texts, preferring to focus on the message instead of its form. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger, this is especially true of writers in their 20s and 30s. Most brands, on the other hand, are still being careful enough to at least infer that they know how to spell and punctuate.
Here’s the thing: I was taught to write to your intended readers. If your readers are expecting complete sentences, “utilize” instead of “use” and parallel bullet points, write that way. If your readers are expecting abbreviations, slang, fragments and unwieldy punctuation, use them. The wrinkle is that your online reader could be anyone. Though a brand may be targeting a segment that doesn’t flinch at “its” instead of “it’s” and “totes” instead of “totally,” writing this way may damage your credibility with other readers.
Is this worth the risk? I am not convinced it is. Not yet.
Every day I read articles about how English is “declining,” about how hiring managers won’t consider an applicant whose resume has a typo and about misspellings in headlines. The concept of “error” remains strong. Therefore, I think brands and individuals should follow most of the rules most of the time.
Working at an ad agency, I imagine the stakes can be pretty high when you’re proofreading copy that’s going to be seen/heard by the masses. I’ve always wondered: how do proofreaders minimize the chances of any grammatical mistakes slipping through the cracks? Any tips/tricks you can share?
Some agencies have two proofreaders look at every piece, and I can’t think of a better way to minimize the chances of grammatical mistakes slipping through the cracks. If you, like me, don’t have someone to double-check your work, I offer this advice:
• Avoid the martini lunch.
• Read text once for overall comprehension and clarity; read it again for spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.
• Point to your screen (or page) and read each word aloud when proofreading text you’ve written or text you’ve read multiple times in other versions. Basically, if you’re familiar with it, go extra slowly.
• Curse the writer (or art director) and then focus on each letter in each word if the text is written in all capital letters. Because each letter is the same height, capital letters are much harder to read than lowercase letters; I have missed some pretty blatant errors in all-cap text. Try to spell the words as you read them. (Again, avoid the martini lunch.)
• Become intimately familiar with merriam-webster.com. Here’s my favorite tip: Search for words with common prefixes by typing just the prefix. Say you know “postlaunch” is one word, no hyphen, but you need to prove it to an art director who insists on a hyphen. Type “post-” into the merriam-webster.com search bar, scroll down under the search bar to “post- (prefix)” and scroll down again in the definition until you see “post•launch.” You’re golden! And then the art director will use the hyphen anyway because it really does look better in the layout, but, whatever. You did your job.
• Pay for access to online style guides like the AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style. They are easier to search (and more frequently updated) than their paperbound counterparts.
What’s the most common grammatical mistake you come across on a daily basis?
The most common mistakes I see are the same mistakes I make when I’m in a hurry and am focusing on my message instead of its form: errant apostrophes, heterograph misspellings (“their” instead of “there”) and extra spaces between words or sentences.
So, Oxford comma or no Oxford comma?
Oh, hell no (unless it affects the meaning of the sentence, of course).
I have now proofread my questions several times. Despite my efforts, have I made any grammatical mistakes in this interview?
Well, yes. But your own writing is the hardest to proofread, so don’t be too upset.
• The AP Stylebook prefers “toward,” not “towards.”
• After the em dash there are two its: “…or is it it sufficient…”
• “Working at an ad agency” is a dangling modifier, since it modifies the following “I,” and I assume you didn’t mean you but me … unless you also work at an ad agency, and then that question is even more confusing. I suggest rewriting it this way: “Because you work at an ad agency, I imagine the stakes can be pretty high…”
• The complete sentence following the colon should begin with a capital letter (“How do proofreaders minimize…”). This is another AP Stylebook guideline.
Comma splices and sentence fragments abound, but in casual, friendly sounding text they are acceptable. In my answers I used both with relish (not the pickled kind).
Designed to marry type and image in an unexpected way, the word recycle directly speaks to consumers through visual metamorphosis. The transition from sunglasses to bottle shows a surprising reincarnation of one useful object into another. The basic concept that matter doesn’t disappear, it only changes form, is strongly reinforced through the unique approach of a commonly used word like recycle.
lookthinkmake in Austin, TX
TM Advertising in Dallas recently won the Captain D’s account – the two spots below are from their new rebranding campaign.
Agency: TM Advertising, Dallas