Respecting your readers…and your profession

When I “discover” a liblog I hadn’t read before–usually through a reference–I’ll check the current posts and, frequently, subscribe to it for a while. I’ve added some interesting new voices to my library reading through that process.

Today, though, I was made aware of a liblog, tried to read the recent posts…and gave up after a while.

I think there might have been some good content–but the presentation was so lacking that it kept getting in the way. Not visual presentation (after all, in an aggregator, even orange-text-on-maroon-background comes through readable, and this wasn’t one of those light-on-dark blogs), but the language.

Homophones were consistently misused–they’re/there/their, it’s/its, lose/loose, you’re/your and so many others. Worse, lots of words were missing letters and whole syllables–and some sentences were missing important words. Worst, this was happening in post titles and topic sentences, not down in the second or third paragraph.

I don’t expect blog posts to be perfect. I assume that most bloggers post the way I do–on the fly, directly in blogging software, skimmed through once over lightly and posted. Sure, some people actually edit their own posts carefully; some even write offline, let posts sit and polish them until they shine–or so they tell us. Not me, and I’m guessing not most of you. When I spot what I think of as a typo (e.g., most homophones) in a blog post where I’m at all acquainted with the blogger, I might send a quick email saying “You might want to fix that” (especially if it’s in the first paragraph), but that’s as far as it goes (and, as one who almost never makes “quiet changes” in posts–that is, changes that aren’t flagged by strikeouts and the like–I believe that it’s legitimate and desirable to make quiet changes to typos, unless doing so makes a commenter look like an idiot).

I think of most blogging as casual speech–a trifle more formal than casual conversation but more casual than most written communication. It makes sense to forgive occasional sloppiness in casual writing. And, since I don’t believe I’ve yet seen an issue of Cites & Insights that’s totally free of typos or other errors, I’m not going to play Mr. Perfectionist here.

What I ran into on this blog was something different. It was somewhere between sloppy and slovenly: I’d guess that at least one-third of the blog titles were wrong. And the errors were so common, and so extreme, that I really couldn’t read through them to the content. So I gave up.
This isn’t a call to apply Strunk & White to blog posts. (I’m not that wild about Strunk & White anyway.) It’s not a call for 100% perfect grammar/syntax/spelling, by anyone’s set of rules, in blog posts. That’s ridiculous.

It is a call to show a little respect for your readers and your profession. After all, a blog that’s rife with wrong words and spelling errors suggests a level of literacy that casts doubt on the ML[I]S: “Geez, this idiot has a master’s?”

Gentle suggestions (not “rules” or anything like that–who am I to dictate to you?):

  • Make sure your post titles use the words you think you’re using.

Homophone errors and missing syllables are one thing in the second paragraph of a post. In the two to five words of a post title, they’re much worse.

  • If you know you have problems, try composing in Word or something like it–or at least run spellcheck before you publish.

When I say “try composing in Word or something like it,” I do mean with spellcheck and grammar checking on. I’m still using Word 2000 (not for long, I hope). The grammar check isn’t all that great: Most of the time, its suggestions are either wrong or flag “errors” that I intend to make (usually, when I have a sentence fragment or closing preposition, it’s because I damn well intend to have a sentence fragment or closing preposition). But even that particular blunt tool catches things just often enough that it’s worth my time to right-click on greenlined areas and see what’s up. I’m a halfway decent speller, so spelling errors are pretty rare–and Word catches those pretty well.

WordPress has a spell checker (or is that Firefox? It’s a right-click option). It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.

  • It’s not about perfection. It’s about perception.

Make a typo here and there? We’ll assume I’ll assume you’re typing quickly and possibly multitasking. No big deal. I’ll probably pass right on by. Screw up every other post title? I’ll assume you don’t much care about what you’re doing–and I’ll suspect that your thinking might be as sloppy as your typing. (Incidentally, that wasn’t a post modification. It was one of those cute rhetorical tricks that blogging encourages: An interlinear clarification and rethinking-on-the-spot using crossout to give my first thought, before I backed away from universalizing.)

  • If you don’t respect your readers, at least respect your profession.

Professional librarians have higher degrees. The public may not know that, but I believe the assumption is that most of you are at least reasonably well educated. When a blog comes across as semiliterate and claims to be written by a librarian, it makes librarians look bad.

Yes, this is a blind item–for what I believe to be obvious reasons. You can eliminate several hundred candidates by checking my public Bloglines subscription list, since I chose not to add this particular blog. That leaves several hundred (maybe several thousand) others. And that’s the only clue you’re going to get; maybe this particular person was having a really bad few weeks, and will snap right out of it.Now, back to writing and editing, knowing I’ll never be perfect…

3 Responses to “Respecting your readers…and your profession”

  1. Dave Tyckoson Says:

    Walt,

    This is a guess, but one possibility that comes to my mind is that it is possible that this is someone for whom English is not the native language. In academia, we run into students from other nations who have good thought content but who are still learning how to express those thoughts in proper English. When helping students at the reference desk, I often see papers that have good ideas but bad grammar. It’s somewhat of a moral dilemma whether librarians should help the student “fix” the paper or not. And I know that if I were blogging in Korean, someone would be saying the same thing about my posts as you are about this one.

    On the other hand, if it is a native English speaker, then you have to figure out if the sloppiness is intentional or not. In aeither case, I would have to agree that it detracts from the message that the person is trying to send.

  2. walt Says:

    Dave, I thought about that possibility–but these don’t seem to be the kinds of mistakes I’d expect (and see) in those cases. If it was primarily odd syntax and grammar, I’d guess that as a reason (and not comment), but it was a lot more. Still, you never know…one reason I’m not naming the blog.

  3. Jon Gorman Says:

    I have to ask why offering advice on grammar and structure is a moral dilemma. Is it because the student hasn’t noticed? Because they didn’t ask for help on that aspect? Or something else?

    You don’t necessarily have to act as a writing center, but certainly mentioning mistakes you noticed would be fulfilling a crucial education aspect of a reference librarian’s position at an academic school. You might even be able to help them find other resources such as writing center, English as a Second Language support groups, or material that could help the student to write better. seems cruel if the student isn’t aware of the mistakes to ignore them only for the instructor to mark down later. Why help with researching but not writing?


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