Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Professionalism and Dangling Modifers

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Today’s New York Times online edition contains an article entitled, “Loose Connections,” billed as Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style. In essences, it is a self-assessment by the Times. Here’s an example of what they found:

 Sometimes ambiguous antecedents and dangling modifiers are merely distracting (or mildly comical); sometimes they are potentially misleading. A couple of recent cases where we didn’t really say what we meant:

  [Online summary] Maine to Consider Warnings on Cellphones

 Under a state bill, cellphone buyers would be warned that they may cause brain cancer, despite conflicting evidence.

 All right, I know what we meant. But the pronoun problem was distracting (it was fixed later). The only plural noun for “they” to refer back to is “buyers”; “cellphone” is used as a modifier and could not properly be the antecedent.

The point for professionalism here is not necessarily the grammar correction. Having lived most of my life in Maine I read this article and noted the problem when it first ran – it was distracting, but hardly disruptive to the point of the article. Not nearly enough to qualify for this blog’s Consequences of Sloppiness category. Although the importance of using correct grammar and punctuation has been the discussed here, it is the act of self-assessment itself that I think is most important.

Self-assessment is as simple as proof-reading what we write and as complex as doing our own year-end evaluation before the office annual evaluation. (I advocate quarterly or more frequent meeting with your supervisor for evaluation purposes and self-assessment.) It also includes willingness to recognize legitimate criticism from the outside and using that criticism as a springboard for improvement. A incident recounted by Melissa H. at Paralegalese comes to mind. It is worth re-reading by clicking here together with a follow-up here.

Finally, one key to both professionalism and a successful career is taking charge of yourself. You cannot set career goals and make a plan for achieving them without indepth, sincere, and objective self-assessment. So, kudos and thanks to the New York Times and Melissa H. for their examples!