When you find mechanical errors (punctuation, spelling, and so forth), while doing a critique of a manuscript, mark them. Use standard proofreading symbols, if you know them. Your group’s policy may be to mark, but not mention. Reasons: to avoid embarrassing the writer or to use time more efficiently. Consider the following reasons for marking and mentioning errors that may seem insignificant:
- Writers make countless errors in areas they never learned, have forgotten, or where they have not stayed current with “updates.” If your group has a grammatical expert, it takes only a few seconds to site the “rule,” informing the writer who made the mistake as well as others who would appreciate the information.
- A person who indicates a punctuation mark as a mechanical error could be mistaken. It’s not unusual for disagreement between experts, especially since electronic submissions today are the norm. For example, you can find the ellipsis, written with a space between the dots (. . .) and without (...). Which is correct? If marked, but not mentioned, the entire group misses an opportunity to understand how changes in publishing have impacted mechanics.
- Grammatical conventions evolve with time. For example, which is correct? (1) No if’s, but’s and maybe’s (2) No ifs, buts, and maybes. Most guides today say to avoid the apostrophe.
- Proofreading is a skill all writers must develop. When one reader catches an error that others have missed, it reminds them to improve their proofreading.
Mark and mention. If citing a rule in punctuation initiates a conversation that will put the critique session off schedule, your group’s facilitator or time keeper should terminate the discussion. At the end of the meeting or later by email, the facilitator can call for volunteers to check resources. If there's no time for a grammar report at the next meeting, the volunteers can email brief notes with site links to the group.
(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson