Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

To correct or not to correct?

with 13 comments

Cover of "No Roots"
Cover of No Roots

Here’s an interesting moral dilemma. Should online newspapers correct the grammar and spelling of a contributor if they want to use the contributor’s comment on a different page of the paper?

A story about NME’s ‘top 50 albums of the noughties’ in the Guardian online today has attracted nearly 500 comments from readers. The following contribution was singled out and used on the paper’s separate ‘Culture’ page:

im shocked faithless didnt make it in there with “no roots”

Except by the time it got to the Culture page, it looked like this:

I’m shocked Faithless didnt make it in there with No Roots.

Some editor somewhere had added capital letters and apostrophes to spruce up the grammar and punctuation. Except “didn’t” was left incorrect (should be “didn’t” with the apostrophe replacing the missing ‘o’ in “did not”).

Was this missed by the editor? Or left in as a nod to the original? Either way, I think it looks terrible on a main page of a ‘quality’ paper.

But should contributions be singled out and corrected in this way? The writer didn’t want or ask for an online (and very public) English lesson – they just wanted to share their opinion.

Tricky questions.



Written by Wordwatch

18/11/2009 at 9:47 am

13 Responses

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  1. When I was on placement at a local paper, all quotations had to be corrected if they were grammatically wrong.


    18/11/2009 at 11:47 am

    • Hello, there — yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Of course, it would be a very time-consuming undertaking to correct all those online comments that people make on newspaper sites. And the question remains: if the comments are allowed to stand as written by the contributors (which they are on the pages of online newspapers)should they then be corrected if quoted elsewhere in the publication (resulting in inconsistency)?

      And if corrected, they should be corrected properly — unlike the example above!

      Thanks for commenting! Lovely to hear from you.


      18/11/2009 at 12:00 pm

  2. Not a problem, I applaud any attempt to preserve the English language.


    18/11/2009 at 11:31 pm

  3. Somehow I missed this fascinating topic. I say as is — no corrections of any type. Editing alters the flavor of the original, from which you get all sorts of clues about the person who posted the comment. Once you start correcting, you’ll get published crime reports that correct “Yeah, I seen him” to “Yes, I saw the suspect.” Which better captures the scene?

    (I’m prepared to accept a bit of editorial censorship for the sake of propriety, but the cure for that problem is to warn readers that profane or racist comments won’t be posted.)

    Michael Farrell

    31/01/2010 at 3:55 pm

  4. Yes — it’s a really interesting one. I don’t think comments on the actual comment thread should be changed (and as mentioned above, it would just be too time-consuming). It’s when comments are taken out of their original context and placed, for example, on an editorial page that the problems start. Thanks for commenting on this.


    31/01/2010 at 5:16 pm

  5. I just read a related comment by copy editor Bill Walsh regarding use of accents. English is, of course, mostly an accent-free language (loanwords like “résumé” being the main exception). But newspapers and websites that turn out a lot of information in a budget-conscious, time-intensive, deadline-oriented fashion can’t be troubled to go about adding accents everywhere.

    Take, say, readers or eyewitnesses named “Renée,” “Rene,” or “José.” How does the editor know what Renee calls herself? Or even “resume.” I just spent an added 20 seconds finding and punching the Alt code for the accented E’s. If the sentences were “He presented his resume” or “We asked her to resume speaking,” no native speaker would mix up the two.

    Michael Farrell

    31/01/2010 at 5:35 pm

    • Really? What about words such as cliché, crèche, café and fiancé? Is Bill saying that we shouldn’t bother with the accents?


      31/01/2010 at 5:46 pm

  6. He didn’t mention those, but I bet he’d say Yes–don’t bother. (And they’re all Fr loanwords.) How about “bete noire” and “fete”? You want to hunt and peck to find the little roofie thing each time? Or — a huge issue in L.A. and other such areas — you want to guess whether a given Spanish N is ñ or not? Or add a diaeresis to “cooperation” and an umlaut to “doppelganger”? Not I, he said.

    Michael Farrell

    31/01/2010 at 6:20 pm

    • Yes to everything except the cooperation one and the Spanish stuff — but only because I have no experience of the latter.


      31/01/2010 at 6:28 pm

  7. But that’s sort of the thing: a paper, say, would need a full-time multi-lingual research staff just to keep on top of it. In London, NY, or Toronto, you might face 20 foreign languages a day.

    To borrow from the Facebook group Fake AP Stylebook, “Avoid using foreign-language phrases in your articles unless they have a certain je ne sais quoi.”

    Michael Farrell

    31/01/2010 at 6:33 pm

    • That’s an excellent and very funny quote, and I agree with it. I’ve discussed the use of foreign words and phrases in a previous post.


      31/01/2010 at 6:40 pm

  8. I’ve always believed that when it comes to grammar, punctuation and spelling, that consistency is the key. However if a comment is taken out and transported to another page, then I think it should be edited as if it wasn’t, then the reader might question the journalist writing it. Even though it’s not their comment, I feel subconsciously, it might have a negative effect on the reader.

    Also, coming to think of one of your older blog posts about trade-in, the use of Michael’s words (“budget-conscious, time-intensive, deadline-oriented fashion”) in his reply. Can you just explain why that – is included in between those two words? Without them that sentence would look weird. Is the – simply linking those linked words together?


    13/05/2011 at 10:07 pm

    • Hi, Aky

      Thank you for these interesting comments and questions.

      I don’t think readers’ comments should be edited (and it would anyway be an impossibly time-consuming task). However, if I were emperor of the known universe, I would not single out really badly written comments to ‘showcase’ on a separate page in the paper (where, I think, they are visually distracting and disorientating); I would leave them in context.

      Ah, yes, hyphens – a bit of a grammatical minefield. However, in analysing Michael’s sentence, your grammatical instinct is absolutely correct when you say that the sentence looks weird without the hyphens and that the hyphen is being used to join the words together – basically, for clarity and ease of reading. The sentence looks very strange without the hyphens (the eye sees a jumble of words):

      … budget conscious, time intensive, deadline oriented fashion.

      To be slightly more technical, the word ‘fashion’ as used here is a noun (to mean ‘the manner of doing something’). When you wish to use two words to modify (or add more information to) a noun, and those two words only make sense if read and understood together, then they should be hyphenated:

      Budget-conscious fashion
      Time-intensive fashion
      Deadline-oriented fashion

      Compare the above three examples to:

      Rushed and disorganised fashion


      Rushed, disorganised fashion

      You can see that each of the two words (‘rushed’ and ‘disorganised’) being used to modify the noun makes sense on its own; a hyphen is not needed and it would be wrong to use one in cases such as this. It is plain to see that ‘rushed-disorganised fashion’ would be incorrect.

      Here is a post about hyphens including links (at the end) to additional posts on the topic.


      14/05/2011 at 5:04 pm

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