Do not just Google translate it and double check your grammer too


Miss Elizabeth Williams was a formidable woman. Tall and large-framed she always dressed sensibly and wore sturdy shoes. She commanded her classroom with the confidence and authority of a drill Sargent. She knew her way around the language and she was going to make sure you did too when you left her classroom.

Miss Williams was an institution in my small southern town. She had been teaching English in our schools for so long that when I entered her classroom I was the fifth member of my family to do so. She taught my father and his siblings, and my older brother, before she taught me. When I realized I had been assigned her class I was filled with dread — like one going to the gallows.

Imagine my surprise when she became one of my favorite teachers. While it’s true that she was tough and she brooked no foolishness in her classroom, she had a sense of humor and her eyes sparkled with wit and wisdom. She succeeded in making me fall in love with the English language. She also turned my inner editor on. It’s because of Miss Williams that I wince every time I read sloppy work that’s been poorly edited.

When Miss Williams assigned a paper, she cut us no slack when it came to wielding her red pen. When she corrected your paper, if you had more than three red marks, you got your paper back to rewrite. She did not tolerate careless grammar, spelling or punctuation. And God forbid you should use a dangling participle; she would read your paper out loud to the class and ask them to tell you where you had gone astray. Then you had to come up to the board and diagram the errant sentence the proper way.

It was my goal to never have to rewrite my paper, so I spent a lot of time editing my papers with Miss Williams’ lessons in the back of my mind. There were a few times that my paper came back with no red marks and I always felt a glow of satisfaction on those days.

You may not have had the privilege of sitting in the classroom of a wonderful English teacher like Miss Williams. I am beginning to think that the Miss Williams’ of the world are few and far between because I read a lot of writing these days that makes me cringe.

Maybe you aren’t even sure why it matters that you punctuate and spell properly. And maybe you haven’t even heard of something so ridiculous as a dangling participle. (If you are unsure, keep reading. I will tell you!)

Is it really such a big a deal if your writing has a few mistakes in it? It seems there are a lot of people publishing their writing these days who seem to think not. But I am going to speak for Miss Elizabeth Williams and all the readers of the world and give you some compelling reasons why it is a big deal.


Using proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling enables us, as writers, to convey our thoughts in a way that our reader will find easy to understand. When we jumble up our writing with unclear sentences and careless mistakes it diminishes the reader’s experience and may make them stop reading altogether.

No matter how compelling our subject matter, if we don’t follow up with the work of editing to make it as clear and precise as we can, we are shortchanging ourselves, our work, and our readers.

Priya Dharshini, writing on the website Bodhih, says this:

“Any material which is grammatically correct indicates awareness and carefulness on the part of the writer. If it indicates otherwise, people will question its credibility and accuracy of content. Just as rules are necessary in everyday situations, grammar rules are likewise essential in everyday life for clarity of meaning and intent.”

She also says this:

“Grammar makes written content more readable and in turn more interesting. If it is necessary to repeatedly rephrase sentences while reading, the flow becomes disrupted and involvement in the story halted.”


When I read something that is poorly edited I wonder why this writer didn’t take the time to look over their work before they published. If I come across a writer that consistently writes without an eye toward correctness, I usually skip over their pieces from then on.

On the other hand, if I find someone whose writing sparkles with clarity and is blemish-free, that is the writer I will seek out. I, personally, enjoy reading work that I do not have to stop and mentally edit as I am reading. This could mark me as a snob in the eyes of some, but I know I am not alone.

You put a lot of heart into your writing. You want it to be taken seriously. Do it (and yourself) a favor and edit, edit, edit. If you are not skilled at editing and have not had the benefit of Miss Williams’ English class, copy and paste your text into Grammarly before you submit it. Even the free version will catch the most glaring mistakes. Buy a style guide and keep it next to your computer as you write. Or, find a friend or coworker who is good at editing and ask them to give it a once-over before you publish. This could mean the difference between “meh” and “WOW!”

Megan Krause, in her article “Yes, Good Grammar is (Still) Important and Here’s Why” says this:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your personal brand or your business brand — your grammar, spelling and punctuation represents you in the world. It sends the reader a message about your authority and attention to detail. It’s a trust signal; it says, I do good workYou can feel safe hiring me/buying from me/retaining my services.”

“Conversely, poor grammar harms your credibility and makes you look careless. In fact, four in 10 job applications are rejected due to poor grammar and spelling, according to the global communication skills company Communicaid. People are going to make judgments on your competence and intelligence based on your grammar, whether they realize it or not — and regardless of whether you think it’s OK for them to do so. Right or wrong, bad grammar hurts your bottom line.”


That is not to say that we can’t break the rules. I am a huge proponent of the adage “Rules are made to be broken.” But, if your writing is going to be effective, you have to know when to break the rules and when to follow the rules. I often start a sentence with “And.” And sometimes I even start a sentence with “So.” These might not be correct according to the “Elements of Style” but they can be useful in continuing the rhythm of the prose. However, I don’t overuse either of these constructs.

Occasionally breaking the rules is one thing, but we should not allow our writing to become littered with slangy and lazy words. In this age of text and Twitter and verbal slang, it is easy to transfer these shortcuts to our formal writing. Used judiciously they may be effective, but filling your work with acronyms such as “Lol” and “OMG” and the like does not elevate your work to the level of polished, professional writing.

Getting in the habit of texting without adding apostrophes can also transfer over to your writing. Because you are so used to seeing “whats” instead of “what’s”, you will not catch it when you are writing. If you are just unsure when to use an apostrophe and where to put it, you can find some help here and here. The second one even has a worksheet.


OK. I have kept you in suspense long enough. Why all the fuss about dangling participles in Miss Williams’ classroom? Here’s why.

A participle is a phrase that is meant to modify a noun or a pronoun. When we write sentences with a dangling participle, our meaning can be either confused or completely lost. Here’s an example:

“Looking out the window, the chickens are running across the yard.”

Now, it seems I am saying the chickens are looking out the window. How can that be? They are also running across the yard. Turns out, that is not what I am saying at all. I have left out the noun the participle is supposed to modify. The sentence should read:

“Looking out the window, I see the chickens running across the yard.”

Or I could say “I see the chickens running across the yard when I look out the window.”

The reason we end up with these kinds of nonsensical sentences is because we (the writers) know what we mean. Your reader, however, isn’t really sure what you mean at all. Here’s some more:

“Broken into pieces, I swept up the glass.”
“Melting in the hot sun, I rush to finish my ice cream cone.”
“Writing at my computer, the cat lays on the keyboard.”
“Texting while driving, the moose was hit in the road.”

You get the picture. Make sure you read through your work and catch as many of those danglers as you can. If your sentence begins with an “ing” word, be especially wary that you may have created a dangling participle. You don’t want to have Miss Williams call you to the board to diagram your sentence.

I don’t know about you, but I want my writing to be easy and enjoyable to read. Gregory Ciotti says “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” He’s right. We have to put in the hard work if we want to create work that is a pleasure to read.

Proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling are important if we are going to gain the respect of our readers and establish ourselves as serious writers. Let’s get it right. The Miss Williams’ of the world are depending on us.

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