Photo by CarbonNYC

Photo by CarbonNYC

Have you been questioned over the murder of the English language? Are you suspected of stealing your readers’ time? Is the evidence stacking up against you as the grammar police move in for the bust?

Your readers are your judge and jury – but it’s possible that they might want to be your executioner if you’re found guilty of a crime against writing.

I posed a question to my Twitter followers, asking them “what is the worst crime a writer can commit?” A few short minutes later, I had a list of the eight most heinous crimes possible.

Crime #1 – “Getting your facts wrong in an article” (Courtesy of Michael Lee)

A good writer should never be afraid of being wrong. Being bold with your claims and nailing your colours to the mast will bring you more respect than timidity and fence-sitting. However, it’s the duty of anyone giving advice not to mislead their readers. Consistently making mistakes will undermine your credibility, and without credibility, why would anyone listen to you?

Crime #2 – “Writing For The Daily Mail” (Courtesy of David Marchment)

Admittedly, writing for The Daily Mail is more of a job than a crime, but as I’ve discussed previously this august organ is a showcase of bad writing practise. If you exaggerate, stir up panic and make no attempt to hide your bias and prejudices, you’ll find that your readers tire of your bitter and twisted scaremongering.

Crime #3 – “Text speak. It should be illegal and carry jail time” (Courtesy of Theresa Summers)

if u use txt spk whn tryn 2 cnvey a pt, ur readrs wl Bcum cnfusd n ir8 v. qkly

If you use text speak when you’re trying to convey a point, your readers will become confused and irate very quickly. There’s a time and a place for text speak – when you need to quickly type out an SMS message on a mobile phone’s keypad. If you have access to a full keyboard, there’s no reason whatsoever to not at least try and write in coherent English. If you don’t, you’ll fast become a laughing stock.

Crime #4 – “Nothing worse in life than inappropriate/misused apostrophes” (Courtesy of Theresa Summers)

No punctuation is treated as badly as the humble apostrophe. High streets across the world host signs proclaiming that “Apple’s and pear’s are now only a pound!” Words containing apostrophes fare no better, with you’re and your interchanged at random, and they’re seemingly retired in favour of their and there. Misusing an apostrophe is the fastest way to show readers that you haven’t proof read a piece. What’s more, it’s possibly the most effective way to irritate pedants.

Crime #5 – “Use of more than one exclamation; as if it adds more emphasis when making a point!” (Courtesy of Andy Wills)

In Terry Pratchett’s book Maskerade, the mysterious murderer’s penchant for leaving notes capped off by five exclamation marks is seen as a clear indication of an unhinged mind. Using multiple exclamation marks isn’t just grammatically incorrect, it also gives the impression that you’re trying to bulk up the validity of your point – or that you’re in possession of a mind which is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Crime #6 – “Saying what one can say in three words in 37. Over verbosity?” (Courtesy of the verbose Theresa Summers)

It’s common for a writer lacking in confidence to attempt to win the reader over with flowing prose and sweeping verse. It’s common for a reader faced with a twelve page essay to look for a more concise answer. You have a very short time to capture and keep a reader’s attention. Using clear, direct language lets you engage with them almost instantly.

Crime #7 – “Boring your readers is a quick career killer” (Courtesy of Stuart Beamish)

The reason that verbosity is criminal is that it bores your readers. Other ways to bore them includes writing in a dry style, focussing too much on the minutiae whilst ignoring the bigger picture, and not giving your readers what they really want. A bored reader won’t take in your comments and suggestions. A really bored reader won’t give your writing a second glance.

Crime #8 – Plagiarism (Courtesy of Andrew Nattan and others)

Writing a dull, 3,000 word dirge in text speak for the Daily Mail which contains factual inaccuracies, rogue apostrophes and more exclamation marks than is strictly necessary won’t win you any plaudits, but it might not alienate your fellow writers. Stealing someone else’s efforts most certainly will.

Your readers may not immediately notice that you’ve reproduced another writer’s hard work under your own name, but somebody will. This crime won’t just make you look like a talentless thief, it can also lead to legal action. Most writers will be happy to let you use credited excerpts or reproductions of their work – just make sure you ask first.

If you’ve spotted any offenders or criminal acts not covered here, share your findings in the comments section below.


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