Duels Are Illegal (OR, a Few Simple Tips for Saving Your Words from Certain Death)

Of course we’ve all seen this poster about poor Grandma.

But it could be worse. Here’s a one-sentence email press release I received a few years ago (with names removed to save embarrassment):  “By a vote of 42-3 with 5 abstentions the [District No X] Democrats voted for a Duel Endorsement of [incumbent] and [challenger ] for the US Senate.”

I had to save this email for posterity — once I stopped laughing hysterically. I mean, I knew politics can be murder, but a duel?

If you want your target audience to take you seriously — whether a customer reading your brochure, a fan reading your blog, or an editor reading your press release — don’t give them a reason not to. You don’t have to be a great writer or create perfect copy to look professional, but you can do a few little things to save your precious words (as well as grandmothers and senators)  from certain death.

This post  from copyblogger that I highly recommend reading lists five of my personal pet peeves that are among commonly made errors  (you’re vs. your, its vs. it’s, there vs. their, affect vs. effect and the sneaky dangling participle).

One common mistake missing from that list is entitled vs. titled, which I see commonly used by best-selling authors, big media publishers and PR gurus alike.  You could try to argue with your teenager that you’re entitled to his or her attention, but convincing someone that your book, report, song or whatever is entitled to something is pointless, even if it’s cleverly titled.

My Other Pet Peeve is Capitalization. I realize your Idea is so Important that you want to Emphasize it, but using capital letters is not the way to do it. Neither is using ALL CAPS. Neither is using excessive punctuation!!!!! You get the point.

I’m not saying I’m a saint in my own writings. Episiotomy vs. epitome was my all-time low point (in a beautiful magazine story) that made me want to crawl under a rock and hide for a very long time.

I’m simply saying: If English grammar is not your friend, get a second pair of eyeballs to read your prose before you launch it out into the universe. Your grandma will thank you. Maybe even your senator.

Author: Rodika Tollefson

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