The Get It Write Philosophy

Much of this site is devoted to addressing issues of grammar, mechanics, and usage. As with any such resource, certain values and beliefs about language underpin the content of these pages, and I believe visitors deserve to know those values:

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Whether we like this fact or not, the world is full of people who will judge those whose writing does not reflect standard written American English (SWAE). Knowing that most people have had very little formal instruction about grammar, mechanics, and usage, I delight in providing clear and easy-to-understand explanations that do not oversimplify complex issues. I try to avoid making blanket declarations about what writers should always or never do and instead endeavor to provide writers with a full range of thoughts on a topic. Armed with good information, writers can make stylistic decisions based on their particular writing context(s). That said, the wise writer avoids surface errors that might distract a reader and that can undermine—however unfairly—the writer’s credibility.
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Languages are dynamic; they change. The rules that govern the use of language, therefore, also change. I celebrate those changes while recognizing that not everyone does. I also recognize that in high-stakes writing situations (a cover letter for a job, for example), sometimes it’s best for writers to play by the rules that many people think are important— even if we suspect they are no longer (or never were) relevant.
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Many so-called (and highly revered) “rules” are, in fact, shibboleths: they are used by those who consider themselves “in the know” to make an arrogant and unfounded claim of superiority over those who are not privy to the same depth of knowledge about those rules. Other so-called “rules” are not, in fact, rules at all but matters of style that vary from one discipline or context to another. (See our post on style manuals.) Still others are made up; they are merely myths that have been passed along as truth for so long that they have become entrenched. (“Never start a sentence with and, but, or because,” for example, or never split an infinitive. Poppycock and balderdash!)

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While some rules are really matters of style and others are shibboleths, it is also true that an understanding of syntax—of the ways words, phrases, and clauses come together to make meaning—is essential to becoming a good writer. The best writing is focused, logical, coherent, clear, and convincing, and when writers understand sentence structure, they are better equipped to produce writing that meets those criteria.
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Grammar is not the same as usage or mechanics. Punctuation is a matter of usage, not of grammar. Knowing where to put an apostrophe and deciding whether to spell out a number or use a numeral are matters of mechanics, not of grammar. Spelling is not a matter of grammar but a matter of, well, spelling. I am an avid reader and a good writer, but I am an abysmal speller, born for spell check (and for GPS, but that’s another topic). Grammar refers to the structure and system of a language: to syntax (sentence structure) and to the relationship among the various parts of a sentence and an awareness of how those parts come together to make (or to obscure) meaning.
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Words matter. I have zero tolerance for racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic language or for rules that reflect or reinforce those ways of thinking. Most recently, for example, I have embraced the notion that it is better to use a plural pronoun to refer to a singular noun than to reinforce the socially constructed gender binary. Likewise, I find it distracting when restaurant servers and gym class instructors refer to groups of mostly women as guys. Would they, I wonder, refer to a group of mostly men as gals? I think not, and I invite visitors to this site to consider how some rules serve merely to reinforce repressive ideologies.
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I am in the process of assembling an advisory board to keep me in check and to help me continue to learn from the best minds in the field. If you are interested in sharing your expertise in this capacity, please let me know by sending your resume or CV and a brief note about your interest.
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To those of you who have been following this site since it began nearly 20 years ago will no doubt notice that I am—at long last—attempting to monetize this site in the hopes of one day being able to retire. I hope the ads aren’t too annoying.

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I welcome respectful and informed debate and challenges to statements made on this site, and I am always open to amending or even deleting a post—especially if I am convinced that it is (however unintentionally) advancing a shibboleth or overlooking an important part of the bigger picture. 

We are all learning, and it is my hope that this site can be a place that inspires lively and helpful discussion.

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