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Criticism and errors

Second in a three part series on dealing with criticism as a publisher / communicator. Read the first part and find out the one reason why criticism comes your way.

I proposed that there are three main groups of people who might send you negative feedback. My previous article discussed heart-felt criticism of your news or your company, this article will reflect on feedback that comes directly to you to let you know you’ve made an error in your writing or content.

As a professional communicator, accepting feedback of all hues is part of your job, so don’t let your person-focused demeanour slip when responding to the very people you’re engaging with.

If you don’t like proof reading, don’t worry, your readers will notice every mistake.

When people drop you an email about an error you’ve made make sure you fix the error very quickly and respond with thanks promptly. You are grateful that a reader has taken the time to care about what you’ve written (they’re engaged in what you do, yippee!) and you’re very happy to fix the ‘mistake’ – even if you yourself didn’t make it.

Hyperlinks that you’ve offered can break and fail without any error on your part, that doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility to fix them (by removing the link if you can’t correct it).

There is a subsection within this group that I like to call the Grammar Police (or worse things). These people think they’re better writers than you and that they could do your job. They might be better writers when it comes to crafting a letter or report over a period of a week, they may well know a little more about English than you. But don’t allow their superior knowledge to hurt your feelings. Your job is more than just writing; as a communicator you have to juggle dozens of stories each week and thousands of words each day – all the time considering the impact on your audience.

Grammar is important, and you must thank these people for their feedback and help, but don’t go destroying a good communication because of a split infinitive or a dangling preposition. If the flow of your sentence is better with the evil split infinitive than without it (as is proper) than damn it all to hell and go for good writing over good grammar every time.

Good grammar can lead to bad prose

You can craft great sentences that break the traditional grammatical rules, and when it comes to communicating to the masses, great sentences matter a great deal.

Bad sentences halt the reader and make them go over the words again (and again) to find the sense. Good sentences flow and allow the meaning, the message, to enter the brainbox and stay there without effort.

Consider this ‘perfect’ sentence, and see how it flows for you:

“To go boldly where no one has gone before.”

Sure, you know where the phrase comes from, and perhaps it’s too well-known to provide a perfect example, but it’s an example that should work well for you I’m reckoning.

It’s pretty obvious why Gene Roddenberry et al. chose to write it as “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

(Yes, I know how contentious that word ‘Man’ is, and I’m glad it was changed.)

Fix your mistakes, unless they aren’t

You need to thank the Grammar Police for their help; once again these people are engaged with your work, so that’s great! Just softly let them know that at times it’s acceptable to bend grammatical laws for the sake of good writing. Many famous poets and writers have spoken about the need to consider the craft of writing in context to the message, rather than holding to the laws of grammar blindly. As a professional writer, you should have a Style Guide that is your writing bible.

In summary, fix your mistakes quickly and thank anyone who sends you feedback promptly. Stand by any grammatical decisions you consciously made, and don’t take criticism to heart, it’s just a part of the process of crafting great prose.

[Wedge]

Second in a three part series on dealing with criticism as a publisher / communicator. Read the first part and find out the one reason why criticism comes your way.

About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

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