Why good grammar matters

A reader sent an e-mail message last week to point out some grammar problems and typos in the Career Builder section published by the N&O’s Classified Advertising Department. The reader is also a writer and teaches writing. She uses the section to teach the importance of good writing. I hear from other readers who say that they find grammatical, spelling and usage errors in the newspaper (in print and online) particularly disheartening because we (the newspaper) should be setting a good example for students.

Indeed, published writing does teach others how to write. I use that argument with those who assert that a poorly constructed sentence still makes its point, that readers will understand the ideas being put forth even if the sentence uses nonstandard grammar or usage. The most important obligation of the news media is to inform the public, and I contend that making that information as clear as possible is essential to fulfilling that obligation. Accuracy and clarity can be enhanced with sentence structure. As the reader who complained about the Career Builder article pointed out, misplacing “only” in a sentence makes the meaning wrong.

I worry about stepping on toes or hurting feelings when I point out the errors that I or others have found in print and online. But as the reader’s note to us shows, errors, even the most common typos, can undermine our purpose.

Afterthought: It occurred to me that I should add to the headline on this post: “… but not as much as sports.”

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.