Letters – by Our Readers



Liked your Oct 2022 article. Especially about your editor.

Were you playing with us with the mistake on page 36. Shouldn’t the “?” be a coma “,”?


Hi Dale,

I go round and round with my editor about punctuation. Now here you are, making more trouble for me.

Seriously, I appreciate your letter because it means that you are a careful reader, attentive to language. Not just a careful reader, but a keen observer of punctuation. I like that in a reader. If only you hadn’t referred to my punctuation as “a mistake.” Now that hurt. My editor has brought it to my attention. Twice. [not a full sentence]

Years ago, in a life far, far away I began to conduct extended, open-ended interviews. They were audiotaped conversations with a focus that sometimes changed over an hour or two. Then a professional transcriptionist typed them up and sent them back to me on pieces of paper.

But wait a minute! Afterwards, when I listened to the audio tape again while reading through the transcription I realized that many nuances of the conversation had been lost. And those nuances were crucial to an understanding of what had been said. The transcriptionist had changed the stops and starts, the hesitations in speech and the intonations of the interview participants.

But people don’t speak in full sentences. They start. They stop. They raise their voices and express emotions. [period] And there is meaning to that starting and stopping that is lost in some transcriptions, when grammar and sentences are smoothed out. Facial expressions, gestures and body language are lost, too.

However, if the transcription is pure, if the interview is preserved intact, meanings emerge to reveal the complexity of the person’s response. That authenticity is what I try to capture when I interview someone. Sometimes I also include gestures, interpretations of smiles and laughter as a way of inviting you, the reader, into the conversation. Does that make sense?

I found these two sentences on the internet written by someone named Alice Sudlow, “Grammar refers to the ways we put words together in sentences to form meaning. Punctuation refers to all the symbols that enhance sentences and add clarity.”

Nicely put, eh?

Punctuation is important to me and I use it in order to convey subtle nuances in language. This is especially the case when I am quoting someone directly: I really do try to be precise when I do that. Everyone has his/her own way of talking and I try to preserve it. Could I do it differently? Sure. But that refers to a writer’s style. And that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation.

Thank you for writing.


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