Do you write ‘publishable’ English?

In my job as a new writing editor for a commercial magazine I frequently get submissions from people whose basic written English is not of a publishable standard. The same can be said for some students on my creative and non-fiction writing courses. Some of these writers have English as a second language and others as a first. I try to tell them, as kindly as possible, that they are putting the cart before the horse: if they would like to write something that may one day be published they need to get the basics right first. Otherwise, it’s like a fashion designer whose shoddy sewing cheapens what could have been a sensational outfit.

Swallow your pride

One man from Brazil sent in an article to me that had great potential; the problem was, his written English was not publishable. His grammar was incorrect, his sentence structure awkward and his spelling simply not good enough. And this man had a PhD from an English university! I suggested he enrol on an English language course back home, work on the basics, then resubmit the article to me. Six months later, he did so. The article was vastly improved. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. Now that’s a man who will lay aside his pride to become a better writer. Will you?

Back to basics

Many writers don’t think the ‘basics’ are important and focus all their time and energy on the ‘creative’ aspects of writing. Some of them simply don’t realise, like this man, that his written English was not up to scratch; others don’t care, believing that that’s the job of the editor. Well it’s not. There is a certain standard that you need to achieve before an editor will even work with you.

Test yourself

Try these tests that I discovered on a fabulous website called Daily Writing Tips. You’ll be happy to know that I didn’t get 100% for any of them! As a product of a school system that stopped teaching grammar when I was 12, I’m not surprised. But that’s no excuse. I need to work on it and get better. My English is of publishable standard – I know that because I’ve been published – but there’s still room for improvement. Another website you may find useful, particularly if English is your second language, is English Online.

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5 comments on “Do you write ‘publishable’ English?

  1. UK Student on said:

    That was really a very interesting article. I’m studying a journalism course at the moment and really want to see your Daily Writing Tips site but the link is broken – could you fix it?

    Dan

  2. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Hi Dan, thanks for letting me know about the broken link. It’s fixed now. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Good luck with your course (I studied Journalism at Rhodes University).

  3. Rosalie Warren on said:

    Interesting article, Fiona. I liked the Daily Writing Tips site. Ashamed to say I only got 90% in the grammar test – and I used to teach linguistics :-(

  4. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Well you beat me Rosalie! I got 80% on grammar and 90% on spelling. I still can’t figure out what I spelt wrong … the grammar, however, I knew I was going down fast :(

  5. Pingback: thursdaybram.com » Blog Archive » The Business of Freelance Writing Carnival, Edition 31

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