March 12, 2014 0 comments

Bad habits


Spelling and grammar – breaking bad habits

As Samuel Johnson once noted, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” It is amazing how consistently we repeat the exact same little errors out of mere habit. However, we can tackle these habits by identifying them as patterns and writing with an eye for them.

I once misspelled the word ‘separate’ (using an ‘e’ in the middle) 16 times on an exam. My professor circled the offending letter each time and noted, “I wish you could spell better.” His chiding cured me, and, since then, I have not misspelled ‘separate’ since. Many students find that they have picked up the habit of putting commas in automatically before prepositions or even after conjunctions rather than before. Once such habits are identified, however, they can be addressed effectively.

No matter how niggling they may seem, it is vital to master details concerning punctuation, capitalisation, and spelling. Even with a spell and grammar checker permanently turned on, tiny mistakes can be made that can deeply affect the meaning of a sentence. For example, a supplier who repeatedly reported inaccurate invoice amounts to clients because of some sloppy proofreading. Also, capitalisation rules can be highly important to meaning: a geology student, for example, must be aware of whether or not to capitalise ‘ice age’ (yes if you mean the specific glacial epoch; no if you mean any of a series of cold periods alternating with periods of relative warmth). Finally, small mechanical errors (such as abbreviating a term or an acronym improperly) reflect a general sloppiness and disregard for convention.

So, work on the little things. Seek to understand punctuation marks as units affecting grammar and meaning, and accept proper spelling, capitalisation, and mechanics as professional necessities.


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