Looking back at my past few blog posts, I realize that the low-level crankiness I’ve been feeling lately has slopped over into my writing. I suppose I’m not alone; in addition to daily life, there are certainly enough local, national, and world events to turn even the most even-keeled soul into a full-fledged grump.
Here’s one of the problems I see: Information overload.
Now, I’m not as wired in to the modern age as many people I know. There’s no texting here. No tweeting. No smart phones to interrupt my day with breaking news, hot sales, or spam e-mail. I check e-mail once or twice a day, and I generally limit my Internet time unless I’m hot on the research trail. I’m a reluctant Facebooker. I’ll take paper books over e-books any day, and I like to read the weekend newspaper and watch the news on TV. It’s how I grew up. Some habits die hard.
But even with relatively limited exposure (‘relative’ being the key term), and a growing talent for ignoring the obnoxious ads that reside on every Internet site I visit (take that, marketing department!), I’m feeling overwhelmed by information of every kind, even when I try to avoid it.
To make matters worse, so much of the information is flawed. Typos. Bad writing. Punctuation abused or missing in action. Misspelled words on news crawls. Incorrect graphics to illustrate a story. A reporter saying that a car lost control and crashed, when in fact the driver lost control of the car and caused it to crash. (That was last night’s news nugget.)
Doesn't anyone give a damn any more?
Since there’s a National Day for everything, I propose we have a National Day of Clear and Correct Communication. Let’s bring the focus back to good, clean, clear and correct writing and speaking.
Before I launch into today’s rant about a very poorly written article, let me first acknowledge that I understand the reasons why this article was written and posted the way it was.
Internet “news” stories (and I use that term with great reservation) are ranked by the number of readers clicking onto a given story (aka “hits”). Hits are driven by catchy, sensational headlines. More hits = increased revenue.
I get that.
But it’s no excuse for blatantly and deliberately twisting statistics – in other words, lying – to get a reader’s attention.
I submit the following for your consideration. Please note: I am including the link to this article at the bottom of the post simply for the purpose of referencing the source. Read it if you wish, knowing that by doing so, you’re only increasing revenue for a story that should never have seen the light of day.
The headline of an AOL article published on July 6th:
“Let The Arguments Fly: Study Shows Women More Likely To Cause Traffic Accidents”
(Gee, nothing inflammatory or sensational there, eh?)
“Researchers find women are more likely to get into accidents with other women, even though females drive fewer miles than men”
(Still with me?)
In the opening paragraph:
“A University of Michigan study… (finds) an inordinate number of accidents happen when both drivers are women.”
(Read that carefully.)
The research results as presented in the article itself:
Female-to-female accidents: 20.5% of all crashes.
Male-to-male accidents: 31.9%
Male-to-female accidents: 47.6%.
Go back and re-read that subtitle text that says “women are more likely to get into accidents with other women” and then look at the higher percentage – nearly twelve percentage points higher! – of male-to-male crashes.
What’s muddled in translation is the fact that researchers had expectations about the percentages of women and men involved in traffic accidents, and that the actual results differed from what they predicted (higher percentage for women, lower percentage for men). That is the crux of the study.
I’m not the only one who picked up on this travesty of twisted statistics. More than 1100 comments follow the article, many taking the writer to task for manipulating the facts.
The English language is unwaveringly specific about certain things. For example, the pronouns “he” and “she” each apply to one person, not many. A “couple” of items or people equates to two items or two people.
Our language can also be delightfully and frustratingly vague, such as the definition of “several.” My trusty computer dictionary says it means “more than two, but not many.” But depending on where you are in the country, “several” can mean anywhere from three to five, three to seven, or just plain seven. An East Coast friend once argued that “several” and “seven” mean the same thing, to which I countered, “If they’re the same, why not just say seven?”
But I digress…
Here’s a headline from an online news story originated by the Associated Press:
“1 Woman, Children Hurt in Denver School Bus Crash”
“Woman” (with an ‘a’) is singular. More than one woman would be “women” (with an ‘e’). Thus placing the numerical value of one in front of “woman” is not necessary.
Why do I (and so many other like-minded folks) get my knickers in a twist over missing punctuation, poor wording, bad grammar, and every other category of typo?
When I open a book, magazine, or newspaper, or when I click on a story in the Internet, I expect to see professionally written material that has been looked over by at least one other set of eyes.
I expect to see good, clean, error-free writing because I’m expected to do a good job when I show up for work. It’s called “job performance” and “being professional.” Why should paid writers be any different from the rest of the working class?
Lastly, I expect all of this because good, clean, error-free writing used to be the standard, not the exception. It should still be the standard.
Nobody’s perfect. I’ll be the first to attest to that. But that shouldn’t stop each and every one of us from trying to write well.