i before e except after c

charlotteswebAt the end of the book Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur asks Joy, Arania, and Nellie – Charlotte’s three daughters who stayed behind in the barn, “Are you writers?” referring to the skills of their oh so famous mother. Their reply…”No, but we will be someday.”

While I wouldn’t call myself a writer, I think Granddaddy, who WAS a writer would appreciate the fact that both dad and I have made an effort to preserve family stories in writing, and we value the written word and feel it’s important to send written messages at times. (Can you believe that when your dad and I were first married we would respond to Granddaddy’s letters by writing on the back of the envelopes his letters came in?  He couldn’t understand how teachers could live in a house with no paper.  I must admit that I now agree.  We were really pathetic!)

The written word makes it possible to preserve memories, provide instructions, and present yourself to others. Charlotte’s important messages in her web were life-saving, and you may remember she was always concerned that she used just the right word to convey the message. She also checked spelling so her message had the intended impact.

While you may not need the reminder, I want to make sure you pass on these skills to future generations as well as keep them in mind as you write. So  I’d like to share some basic writing tips relating to spelling, grammar, and such. If you’re going to take the time to write, don’t let readers miss the message due to sloppy writing skills.

Top Ten Writing Tips:

1)  Watch your spelling. This is where the title of this week’s memo comes in. The rule states: i before e except after c and in words that say “ay” as in neighbor and weigh (the next part I added) and in words that are weird, like weird.  (I know this is a tip that Meghan has shared with others.) Many people don’t like this rule because they say there are too many exceptions – but I find it pretty useful and when all else fails, use a dictionary or better yet, dictionary.com.

2)  Know your purpose to decide what style to use. This is a weakness for me. Who needs capital letters, punctuation, and standard spelling when texting? Only crazy perfectionists like me. Texts, tweets, and email, or Facebook messages to friends should be written in the quick informal style. Just be careful not to let it carry over to more serious writing.

3)  Be careful with words that are homophones. Principal or principle? Stationary or stationery? Praise, prays, or preys? Maybe the best plan is to just “pray” that you’ll use the right (not write) word, but (not butt) if in (not inn) doubt – look it up. A mistake with one (not won) of these words may be (not bee) the difference between getting a job or (not ore and not oar either) being passed (not past) over.

4)  Understand when to use an apostrophe. This may look like a continuation of the homophone tip. It’s = it is while its=belonging to it. They’re=they are, there=a place or point of action, their=belonging to them. You’re=you are while your=belonging to you. I’ve been a frequent critic of WESH news for their inability to use these words properly and on a trip to Wakulla Springs it became apparent no one knows how to use its. (Sarah can verify this is true.) An apostrophe is needed in a contraction (which should be avoided in formal writing anyhow) and in possessive nouns. These are some of the easiest mistakes to make so always double check.

5)  Use punctuation and capital letters. Again this relates to number 2 above, but writing in all lower case letters was unique and creative when e.e. cummings wrote this way. In fact, it was his trademark but now many people have decided that capital letters and punctuation are no longer necessary. Not true for formal writing! Save this for a fun, informal or creative purpose. (Emily’s  business cards would be a good example of an appropriate use of using lower case letters exclusively to present fun and creativity. If you haven’t seen them yet, ask her to share.)

6) There is no such word as I’s. I must admit that I had never seen this word(?) written until two years ago when a parent sent an email stating that “her mother and I’s concern…” to which I laughed my head off. And then just recently I received a tweet stating that “my husband and I’s weekend…” This time I wanted to cry because it seems this is becoming an epidemic. If you’re ever tempted to use I’s to show you own something, think of another way of wording the sentence so you can use the word my or mine.

7)  Proofread your work. This is my least favorite thing about writing, but it’s by far the most important so you should probably do it more than once if it is an important piece of writing.

8)  Ask someone else to proofread your work if it’s really important. It doesn’t matter how many times you read your own writing, you’re still likely to miss something because you know exactly how it’s suppose to sound. Someone else will see your work with fresh eyes.

9)  Don’t depend on auto-correct or spell check features on electronic devises. In fact, I hate auto-correct. Sorry, but my iPad is NOT smarter than me. I know what word I want to use. Let me check myself. And while I love spell check, it makes me lazy. If a word isn’t identified as misspelled by the computer, then it must be correct. But I know that’s not true. See tips 2 and 3.

10)  WRITE!  Don’t be so worried about making a mistake that you don’t write. Your words are infinitely more important than your use of conventions. Share your thoughts, memories, feelings, and write. Write notes, write cards, write letters, write blogs, and write emails. Write texts.  Write reports and recipes. Mostly though…just write. Be like Charlotte and Granddaddy – real writers! (Thanks so much for writing thoughtful messages in my Mother’s Day cards…best gift of all!)

BTW – how many writing mistakes did you find?