Do you use Facebook? Do you send emails? Do you Tweet? [God save us all from that word.] Do you blog, or comment on someone else’s blog? Do you leave comments about news stories on news websites? If so, you’re a writer. Maybe not a great writer, but a writer nonetheless.
You’re not going to win a Pulitzer prize for writing in any of those situations. There’s no Pulitzer for Tweeting or blogging or friending on Facebook. But that doesn’t mean you have to write badly–and here’s my comment for today: so many people do. Just because you’re writing a short message doesn’t mean you have the option of descending into the despair of poor writing just because it’s only a few words, or because it’s a small comment on another story, or because it’s a short description of what you’re doing at the moment.
Good writing doesn’t just win awards, good writing communicates appropriately. It gets its message across simply and without confusion. It produces a response in the reader. That response may be positive or negative, but it will be a response based on the content of the message, not the incompetence of the writer. Your writing, good or bad, tells us something about you, whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not.
In my profoundly limited experience with electronic media, I’ve found the posts on Facebook to be reasonably good. Most people get their message across without too many misspellings or comma errors, although I’ve never understood what putting 942 exclamation points after a posting adds to the message. Email likewise, though I’ve run into a few emails written in all lowercase. It’s in the comments section of news stories where the English language takes a bastardly hit.
Here’s where the poorest of the poor emerge. What were these people doing in English class in high school? Did any of them attend high school? So many of the comments I’ve read don’t even stay on subject. Some are written in all lower case, and some are written in upper case. Shouting is not the way to be taken seriously. Some seem to be written by people who do a lot of text messaging, using “u” for “you”, and using common texting code (lol). Now, I can understand using shortened versions of words while text messaging, it saves time and saves having to type on that tiny keyboard on your cell phone. And, certainly, if your head is buried in your texting while you’re driving down the highway trying to avoid all those 18-wheelers bearing down on you, and trying to swerve around the young mother pushing her 3-month old triplets in a stroller across the road, of course you want to keep your message to a minimum. But if you’re typing on a computer, commenting on some other story, or giving your opinion about a newsworthy event, or emailing a friend, a little care is appropriate.
Stay on story. Capitalize the first word of each sentence. (How much extra effort does it take to press the “Shift” key?”) Write complete sentences. Use the spell checker. Read and re-read what you’ve written before you send it. Remember, you’ve got a message to get across. If we can’t understand your message, what value is that to you? Think back to English class–your teacher was trying to tell you something. What you put down on that com screen is a reflection of you. You are what you write. That’s a fact of life. You can’t get away from it.
If you don’t know the difference between a comma and a period (no tasteless jokes here), how can we take you seriously? If you write in all caps, you sound like a blowhard who can’t get his message across by logic and reason and has to yell and scream and drive everyone away just to make a point. It’s not worth my time to read those comments, and I don’t. I made a conscious decision a long time ago to never comment on news stories, because I don’t want my writing in that company.
Now that I’ve vented my spleen, what kind of comment are you going to leave?