Online Writing Matters

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by Mitchell Bonds

There is no excuse for your behavior.

“wtf Lol jk idk”

Stop. He who has ears, let him hear. He who has eyes, let him read. Another desk-chair grammarian is about to expound at length and with some vitriol.

“Its not going to effect me lol C U l8r”

If idle hands are the Devil’s playground, then idle keyboards are his office space. You have a full 26-letter alphabet to use — even more if you are using some languages.

Being the grammar police is quite literally my job. In my real, full-time, paid job, I am a copy editor. But who cares about everyday accuracy if you’re not trying to get published, right? Well, here’s the thing. If you say communication on Facebook or other social media, or other less keyboard-having locations such as SMS text messaging on cellphones isn’t important, you are my target audience. You can blow me off as just another grammar Nazi (I’m not, though; I’m a Keeper of the Old Speech), but here are some things to avoid instead:

Don’t be a Punctuation Racist.

Punctuation changes the very meaning of some sentences. I’m sure you’ve seen the classic “invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin” joke circulated on the mighty Book of Faces, or possibly those sentences wherein you can put a comma at any point and it means a different thing each time.

But there are more times when punctuation is important than just a few chuckleworthy novelty posts, especially when you have an audience on social media or in professional circles.

One of my closest friends, whom I have known since middle school, does a staggering amount of Facebooking (is that a word? I know Googling has become part of the vernacular, but even for professionals it’s hard to track the constant morphing of the language). He regularly posts on a broad selection of talking points, the most recent of which was pet safety on Halloween.

Given the superstition with which black cats are regarded, allegedly being vessels for demonic spirits on the night of Halloween, there has been a long and malevolent history of people using that as an excuse to harm the poor animals. So in my friend’s defense, asking his friends to keep their cats inside, regardless of their coat color, was the right thing to do.

“It doesn’t matter if they are black people will do really bad things to regular cats tonight,” he posted.

Tadaa! Lack of a comma caused unintentional racism. It’s not like African-Americans are the primary abusers of cats on Halloween, after all. He quickly corrected it, but it was online long enough for people to grouse at him for it.

He is, however, a paraplegic who doesn’t have fine motor control in his fingers, so he has an excuse.

What’s yours?

Don’t bury your point in mistakes.

Another example from Facebook is those existential or otherwise introspective — and often long-winded — rants that you and/or people you know have posted as a status update. A column in my paper recently featured, in its entirety, one of said rambles about thoughts on mortality and missing out on life.

I don’t grudge the gentleman in question his existential rambles. Death is a serious topic which, without exception, 100 percent of us will have to deal at some point. And he made some good points about life being too long to hold grudges, and the travesty of letting good friends fall by the wayside over the years.

His problem, however, was he used a lot of big words and shiny phraseology, most of it incorrectly.

“Doesn’t matter for social media, though, right?” you may cry. “We knew what he meant.”

Except that this ramble made it onto the cover of a newspaper section. Included in a school principal’s writing. In all its flawed glory — because as a quote from a ‘published’ source, we couldn’t correct errors in it. So what was a personal and emotional moment for this man became a head-shaking, and sometimes head-scratching, exercise in trying to read the content without getting hung up on flaws. Sometimes, even an ‘unimportant’ post might, in the vernacular ‘go viral’ as it is shared by others. If that happens, you want to look like you know how to English properly.

That’s not just some readers being picky, either. In a recent poll conducted by, 61 percent of responders said they would be unlikely to trust a product or service if its advertisements contained serious spelling or grammar errors. So, please, if you’re selling pizzas, stop telling us you sell hot fresh pizza’s. Sersiously.

Another poll, this one by Grammarist, said grammar flubs — or worse, misspellings — undermined a writer’s points even if they otherwise agreed with them. Take our musing friend above as Exhibit A.

If you want to be taken seriously, make sure you’re using the language properly. Even if it’s only a handful of the self-congratulatory grammar nerds who subscribe to blogs about the English language, there are people who are going to have a hard time seeing your point through your mistakes.

Don’t let time-savers kill your efficiency.

In the age of the smartphone, everyone has a full keyboard on their touch screen, so bad habits from the phone keypad typing era should have died out. These days, it actually takes longer to type the horrible non-word “l8r” than it does to type “later” with the pass of a single finger via something like the Swype keyboard setting (which Samsung has had in its phones for YEARS, I might add).

Or for even more lazy efficiency, just type “la” and then pick “later” from the suggested words. It might even suggest the NEXT word you’re likely to use, and most phones quickly learn some of your more common personal phrases, swear words included. Don’t trust the autocorrect, though. Proofreading your text messages before you hit send can keep them from ending up on sites like that showcase the follies of trusting lazy shortcuts.

The ‘efficiency’ habits some of us acquired in the days where you could use Nokia phones as airplane chocks without hurting them are no longer that. Now they merely make the user look incompetent and childish.

Don’t let laziness and bad habits get in the way of using NEW tools that make your laziness even more efficient. And like in the second point, wacky abbreviations aren’t going to help you be understood better, in most cases. You’re more likely to get the messaged muddled than to appreciate its character-length brevity.

I could bang on about this kind of topic all day. But instead, I’ll turn to another cunning linguist, the infamous Weird Al Yankovic, who summed up many of my frustrations in his relatively recent release “Word Crimes.”

Remember, those annoying friends of yours who are grammar Na- er, Keepers of the Old Speech, often know what they’re talking about. And if you can handle the smug and a dab of condescension, there’s no shame in asking for help. Most of us really do enjoy polishing the work of others so it’s the best it can be.

Write precisely and well, friends, and may the Force be with you… always.

Mitchell Bonds is a professional copy editor and half-assed hack novelist. Throw some shade at him at


6 Replies to “Online Writing Matters”

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