Belinda: Does grammar matter in the digital age?
Belinda Pollard is a book editor, publishing consultant, blogger, speaker, award-winning author and the owner of Small Blue Dog Publishing. She has edited books that have been translated into multiple languages, and won or been shortlisted for prestigious Australian and international awards. Despite all this, she retains a no-nonsense approach to grammar: it’s not about being ‘right’, it’s about communication.
I have a confession to make: sometimes I hate grammar. (Don’t tell anyone.) The sad fact is that grammar can be presented as a bunch of arbitrary rules and regulations designed to make people feel stupid.
It doesn’t have to be like that.
Would you be interested if I told you that a better grasp of grammar could boost your academic results and empower your career?
Firstly, why does it matter?
A Newcastle survey showed that lecturers deduct marks when a student’s meaning is obscured by grammatical errors (Woodward-Kron & Van Der Waal, 1997). Even worse, a US study found that markers lowered their estimate of a writer’s intelligence if they detected writing errors. Yikes!
It’s not just a problem for students.
Earlier this month, a US dairy company was forced to pay $10m in overtime – because of a missing comma in a contract. Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that a $10m comma is an unusual occurrence. But a survey of business leaders showed that bad grammar can affect the awarding of contracts – that’s a crucial, everyday cost for all of us, with obvious impacts on your employability and your employer’s viability.
Fear not. You can win this.
Grammar is not a set of arbitrary rules. It’s about effective communication of meaning from one mind to another. You already know more grammar than you realise.
Here are 4 simple steps to better grammar:
1. Read good quality books
As children, we learnt grammar from our parents. We absorbed it almost by osmosis. If you take the time to read good writing, you will over time absorb new and better ways of ordering words in your head.
If you’re not sure what counts as a good quality book, ask a librarian, and make sure they give you something recent because expression has changed. It can be fiction or non-fiction – whatever you enjoy. Ask for something Australian, because we have our own national style with spelling and punctuation.
Don’t speed-read. That defeats the purpose in this particular instance. Wallow in the sound of the words in your head. Pay attention to the placement of different words in the sentence, and how punctuation is used.
If you come across a sentence construction that surprises you, look it up and find out if they are wrong or you are wrong, and why. Grammar Girl at Quick and Dirty Tips can be a good starting point. Her explanations are usually accurate and easy to understand… although do beware of her US spelling!
2. Write good quality books
Don’t panic! I’m not saying you need to become an author overnight.
This is a weird little trick from the realms of brain science. Actually typing up the words of a good book can activate parts of your brain you didn’t know you had. You can also try writing it out by hand, if you find that more effective. Experiment!
Pay close attention to every item of spelling and punctuation. Again, choose an Australian book.
Note that I am NOT recommending plagiarism. This is a way to practise better writing, not permission to steal other people’s ideas.
When you are getting ready to write an assignment, choose a book recommended by your lecturer. Get into the mood of how to write effectively on this particular topic, and then launch into writing your own assignment.
3. Get a grammar primer
Stop groaning. I don’t want you to buy some big doorstop of a thing that makes you lose the will to live. And I know that if you’re a student you are already drowning in required reading.
Get a short book that will be enjoyable to read. Again, ask a librarian for suggestions. One of my favourites is My Grammar and I or Should that be Me? It’s nice and thin, and even witty. Yes, witty! A grammar book!
Read a chapter at night or on the train, and think about how you can apply it in your next writing project.
4. Listen and watch my FREE webinar!
I partnered with USQ to present a free, one-hour webinar as part of their Beyond the Books Online Series. Listen and watch for more practical grammar tips, like how to spell there, their and they’re, and how to remember lose vs loose.
You’re smart and you already know a lot of grammar. Invest five minutes a day to get even better at it. Little by little, your grammar will improve, your confidence will grow, and the benefits will flow.