Hope Tolbert
By: Hope Tolbert
March 7, 2019

When to Correct Someone’s Writing and When to Hold Back

Last week, I posted a picture to Instagram. Immediately after I clicked “Share,” my phone started buzzing in my hands.

“Hey, Hope! It’s Jenna!”

“Oh, hey! What’s up?”

“Well, I’m actually at lunch with some friends, so I can’t really talk, but you made a spelling error in the caption under that picture you just posted. It’s super cute and everything, but you spelled a word wrong.”

“Oh… Thank you?”

“Yeah, absolutely! Well I’m with people, so I have to go. See ya!”

And thus concluded a conversation I’d already had multiple times. It never feels good to know you’ve made an error, but sometimes it’s necessary to hear in order to improve your writing or avoid a disastrous mistake. Yet, other times, it’s just annoying.

I’m not saying errors don’t matter; they do! I’m just saying that they don’t always matter. Wait, what?

As a curriculum creator, you best bet that I notice grammar errors like a shark notices a tiny shining object in an enormous ocean. But I also know that commenting, “It’s they’re, not there!” on my aunt’s Facebook post isn’t going to make the world a better place. As a homeschool parent using Essentials in Writing, you’re probably ahead of the game when it comes to identifying common problems in communication. You’ve trained yourself to notice errors in your homeschool child’s work, so now you can’t help but notice grammar mistakes everywhere.

Your gut instinct? Point it out, correct it, move on.

Unfortunately, your friend Susan who can’t seem to figure out the difference between a semicolon and a comma may not appreciate your efforts as much as you hope. This may shed some light:

When I was in college, my logic professor shared one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever received.

“You’ve taken a logic class, so that means that you’re more likely to be right. It also means people are more likely to hate you.” He had a point. So when should we correct people, and when should we just let those dangling modifiers fly? Let’s go through some scenarios:

 

Correct someone if:

 

  • You’re grading their paper.

This pretty much goes without saying, but I put it here just in case! This is the best way for your homeschool student to learn.

 

  • The error grossly misrepresents what they meant to say.

A sign that says, “Sorry we’re close,” means something very different from “Sorry, we’re closed,” and you should probably let the store owner know.

 

  • It’s a professional document they’re sending to someone else.

If it’s a resume or a business proposal, make sure everything’s perfect before they send it off!

 

  • It’s something they plan to send out, and changes can be made.

If they’re sending out wedding invitations, they’ll want to make sure they’ve spelled the groom’s name correctly.

 

  • They’ve asked you to check their writing for errors.

Obviously.

 

  • Someone corrects you incorrectly.

There’s nothing more beautiful than being able to say, “Sometimes it really is ‘John and me!’”

 

  • They’re about to send something to someone they mean to impress.

Whether it’s a potential date, employer, parent, whomever, help them.

Don’t correct someone if:

 

  • It’s a text, email, or message you received.

Your response to someone else’s text message should never be: *you’re 😊. Correct your own messages, sure, but correcting someone else’s is obnoxious.

 

  • Changes can’t be made.

If you receive a wedding invitation in the mail, notifying the bride that she misspelled “matrimony” isn’t going to win you any favors.

 

  • You’re not 100% sure that they’re wrong.

This is especially true when it’s your homeschool student; giving them the wrong information while they’re learning could confuse them or create bad grammar habits. If you’re not sure, Google it!

 

  • It’s a casual social media post.

Unless it completely misrepresents what they were trying to say, correcting someone’s grammar on social media will probably do more harm than good. It’s a casual space, and small errors aren’t a big deal.

 

  • You don’t know them very well.

Few things are more annoying than having someone you haven’t seen since middle school message you to say you forgot a comma in your blog post.

 

  • It’s a card, note, or letter from your homeschool student that isn’t for school.

If your child takes the time to write a thoughtful birthday or Mother’s Day card, don’t soil the moment by pointing out errors. Be appreciative! Chances are you or the Essentials in Writing Scoring Team will have countless opportunities to correct the same mistakes when they complete assignments.

Inevitably, a time will come when you will need to use your grammar knowledge to tell someone they’re wrong. Even when the time comes, you can do so gracefully.

This is how:

 

  • Tell them privately.

Message them, text them, or even call them if you’re alone. Correcting someone publicly might embarrass them and discredit what they were trying to say. You should never correct someone’s grammar in a Facebook or Instagram comment. Ever.

 

  • Be nice about it!

Really. You don’t need to come off as pretentious or too good for them! Just be nice.

 

  • Balance it out with some encouragement.

Something like, “Hey! Your short story about the Civil War was great! I did notice that you spelled “Colonel” like the word “popcorn kernel.” Your sensory details are great, though!” will do the trick.

It’s really that simple! Now go! Correct with care or simply let it go.