I went on about this on another forum, let me see if I can find the post…. well, I did find it and, of course, it’s really longish. Here’s the piece:
“I sometimes get frustrated when I find posters to forums claiming that such basic qualities in writing such as good grammar or correct spelling are not important in forum writing. Naturally, I’d say that because I spent over three decades teaching English as a Second language, specifically writing. Knowing that quality is the result of clever and constant use of the tools afforded us as writers, I wonder why those who need to produce quality content don’t take advantage of forums to practice.
Take music, for example. I like to strum away on the guitar. I’ve had a couple of teachers and they were, naturally, insistent that one need warm up, practice and correct. Music has to be perfect, anyone will notice a wrong note or chord and cringe. While alone, you have to try again and again to get it right so as to make pleasant sounds when others are listening to you.
This does not mean I won’t make mistakes when playing for others, I’m not a musician myself; however, it does mean that I always try my best to be a musician, have that perfection attitude musicians must have when playing for others. If I can’t play it well, I won’t play it before an “audience”, doesn’t matter if it’s my nieces and nephews and in-laws at Christmas dinner or if it is an auditorium filled with strangers.
Though I understand the idea that forums can be a hair-letting-down experience for participants, where we can ignore the rules of typing or capitalization, I do worry that forums become 140-character snippets where abbreviations rule alongside graphic emoticons. I don’t worry that such exists; rather, I worry that the inappropriate use of one type of language out of its normal platform leads to misunderstanding and judgmental attitudes like my own.
Though I may skim through shorter posts on a forum, I do just that: skim. Even though the writer may have something concise to communicate (and I am far from concise! ha!), if I see that even basic norms applied to spelling or punctuation or even paragraphing have been overlooked, I won’t bother with the post. Some may say the opposite, which is fine and dandy, a post can well be too long to delve through (like mine).
One more thought, practice makes perfect. Once you have gotten into the practice of producing quality no matter where you are writing, it becomes natural to you– it’s not something that gets in the way of being relaxed, it becomes something to be proud of, easy and freeing.
Though I wrote that a while ago, I continue to feel the same. Maybe, despite being a bit older, a little less frustrated, I still think that forum writing should be as good as other types of content writing.
Now, there are all kinds of forums out there. I generally participate in forums where the users are writers. This also makes them readers. When I first began writing seriously, let’s say around 40 years ago, I actually sat down and made some rules up for myself. I felt that writing was a craft that required discipline. 40 years ago means I was using a pen and a notebook. Some of the rules included:
- Number each page of the notebook and leave a couple of pages at the end to index what is found on each page.
- Leave a blank line between paragraphs (was that a premonition?).
- Never write on the last line of a page (I wrote in bed and the writing on that last line, without a table to lean my hand upon, always turned out sloppy).
- Use a particular type of pen and develop a particular handwriting that won’t tire out the wrist and can be read later.
- Never abbreviate, spell out everything, even names that are repeated over and over.
- Write nearly every day, in a dream notebook, a letter-writing notebook, a notebook for stories, another for plays, etc.
Even though I mostly write on the keyboard these days (still have notebooks for bedtime writing, though), I continue to respect the majority of those “rules” I set up for myself way back when I was fifteen or sixteen years old.
Perhaps the most important rule, though, was that anything I wrote would have to reflect the highest level of craftsmanship I was capable of at the time of its writing. All writing became practice for me, which led me to where I am now as a writer. Perhaps one of the most significant practices, once I went online, was forum writing. I found myself in forums with others, discussing ideas, trying to sway, to convince, to share what I thought. And all that writing became my hours in the basement practice room doing scales on the piano.
So, I have to admit, as I said earlier, if I am reading over a post, I will get stuck on a piece of bad grammar. I will cringe at a misspelled word. One strike anyone can have. I usually don’t get to a third strike when reading, though. I’ll move on to the next post. I may be mistaken, but I usually figure that if the writer using the forum can’t be bothered to produce his / her best work at all times, they just can’t keep my attention.
I realize that many feel that forums are places where we come to relax, let down our hair, dance a jig or whatever. I agree with that. On the other hand, while some may be put off by postings on forums that are sloppily written, poorly composed, full of spelling errors, I would hazard to say that none would be put off by posts that not only respect spelling and grammar and composition norms or mores, but also demonstrate an effort to stretch and exercise the very thing we want to be “known” for: writing.
Forums are excellent forums for practicing, experimenting, sharing and understanding. So, my vote will be on the side of using forums to improve our craft, being careful to follow those basic rules, to watch for the red squiggly line under misspelled words and show our fellow writers that we are constantly serious about what comes out of our fingertips.