May 03, 2005

Grammar Nazi

Apparently I have become a grammar/punctuation nazi. You wouldn't know it from the way I blog or IM but when it comes to academic/official/professional work of some kind... you'd better have your ducks in a row.

People give me their papers to edit and I am more than happy to help them out. Writing is hard and we all feel better if we have someone else read over our work. However, people inevitably get their papers back from me with scores of strike outs, arrows, question marks, and red ink galore. Sometimes they get their feelings hurt but like I used to tell my econ students that thought I was a grading nazi, "It's not about making you feel good, it's about making sure you get it right. And you can hate me now but if you stay in this field, you'll thank me later."

I'm still shocked at basic rules of writing that people don't understand though. Like the rule that says two spaces between each do you get that wrong? Type, type type, period, space, space. It's not hard! It's a rule that you ALWAYS follow.

*shakes head in disbelief*

Posted by Princess Cat at May 3, 2005 02:32 PM @ 02:32 PM in Grad School // Permalink

I did away with the 2-spaces rule a few years ago and have never looked back.

I see it as a relic from the typewriter age; it doesn't really have a place in the proportionally-spaced world of word processors.

Posted by: JohnL at May 4, 2005 01:02 PM

I just can't do it. When I read papers I can spot a single space after a period like a booger in a wedding photo. Pet peeve of mine I suppose... Damn my aversion to change!

Posted by: Princess Cat at May 4, 2005 01:06 PM

It took me a while to unlearn. And my original motivation was purely practical: I wanted to clarify and shorten several of my company's legal forms (I'm a lawyer). Our goal was to get as many documents down to a readable, one-page, two-column format as possible.

Getting rid of unnecessary dualisms ("due and payable" = "due"), passive constructions, and wordy equivalents ("in the event that" = "if"), I still needed to find some more space, and found that converting all the double-spaces after periods, colons, and semicolons could shorten a document by several lines.

After the fact, I discovered a book to back me up: Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them, by Bill Walsh, chief copy editor of The Washington Post.

My favorite style guide, the Chicago Manual, had this to say in its 1906 edition, and I completely agree: "Rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity. Exceptions will constantly occur, and ample room is left for individual initiative and discretion."

Posted by: JohnL at May 11, 2005 08:08 PM