a pro bono defense: why punctuation matters

If you've spent much time on this space, you'll know that I love punctuation. And I care about it. Like, I really care about commas, semicolons, and parallel structure. And if you really want to woo me, correctly use the subjunctive. 

Not everyone shares this love, though. In my college years, I had a friend who, though said jokingly, spent a long time making fun of the humanities. This friend was focusing on the sciences and made the point that if you're in the hospital, knowing Milton and Shakespeare won't save your life, science will. So I ask the question: why is punctuation--which is even more dorky than Shakespeare--important? Why does punctuation matter?

Why is language important? Isn't it just about communicating? And if you can get your point across, who cares if you write in run-on sentences? 

First off, using language properly gives you credibility. It shows that you're educated (and not necessarily degree-educated, because a degree doesn't always equate to education). Following usage and punctuation norms shows that you know how to learn and that you can apply that. It puts communication on a common plane that everyone involved can understand.

But punctuation is more important than that. Applying correct usage and punctuation to your communications shows that you think about what you're saying. It demonstrates commitment to your language, proves that you mean what you say.

When you read something that "follows the rules" you're reading something that a writer took time to write. This writer thought about what she was saying and took time to refine her words. Using correct usage and punctuation not only indicates linguistic sophistication, it says that you write with intention. You took the time to think about your words and to craft them. You proofread and fiddled and thought about every word you used. An essay written with intention is infinitely more compelling than one haphazardly thrown together. (Is anyone recalling hastily typed and regrettable Facebook statuses?)

If writing is something you want to do and something you want to be serious about, then I implore you to learn and use appropriate punctuation and grammar. Because it matters. Knowing and exercising rules about commas, semicolons, pronouns, capitalization, and plurals changes the way you think and write. It adds a new dimension to how you communicate and adds a tour de force to what you say. You don't have to love commas as much as I do, but please don't discount them as pointless minutiae. 

So, someday if you do end up in the back of an ambulance needing medical treatment, I'd hope that my doctor would be one who consciously differentiates between your and you're, because to me, that says worlds about how intentional and precise he is in his thoughts, even if he isn't well-versed in Chaucer.

*A quick note: Please don't hesitate to comment or write anything to me in fear of comma judgment. I always hate it when people say they're intimidated to text or write me because I'm an editor. My posts are full of typos and mistakes because I don't always have the time to thoroughly proofread. Even editors need editors and I care far more about who you are than about whether or not you capitalized our meet-up location in a text message. This post is a post to defend my craft, and my beef is with those who 1) don't think the rules are important and 2) write professionally and yet can't manage to use the the correct there/they're/their. Please don't think I'm a snob. I'm mostly not.


Sonia said...

I don't think you're a snob. :) I agree whole-heartedly with you though. It has always irritated me that teachers don't require more of our kids in their writing. I constantly fought my kids to write to my standards (even though I am not quite up to yours) because they would invariably say, "But my teacher says it's fine."

I'm not as good as I want to be, but for the time being I don't have the time to educate myself better.

Thanks again for always having a great post.

ashleynicole @ [real life, real love.] said...

I'm totally a grammar nazi, too. It really shows in this post of mine: http://ashleynicoleholmes.blogspot.com/2014/02/editor.html


Anne Christine Wilson said...

From one grammar snob to another, I have to say that I love commas too! I don't apologize for my love of the English language nor do I cower at the suggestion by so many that grammar doesn't matter. It absolutely does matter. And, even in my occasional grammatical imperfections, I am and ever will be a sucker for the writer who knows how to write well AND correctly. By the way, if you ever want to have a serious cringe-fest, come to Utah. The way people put up billboards here is shameful. Somebody needs to insist on an editor for those horrid things! Thank you for this post. I say, "Amen!"

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