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Catching grammar goofs could be an entertaining game as they pop up in social media—-if the prevalence of such errors didn’t make it boring child’s play. But occasionally, something surprises me.

I grabbed my bowl of cereal and sat down to the breakfast table this morning only to read this copy in big bold print on the back of the Post Grape-Nut Flakes box:

This little flake has 3 big things going for it!

* Nutrition

* Crispy

* Taste

Each of the above 3 headings was followed by a paragraph extolling the virtues of those nutritious, crispy, tasty little flakes. Mind you, I love those little flakes. They keep me thin, they taste great, and they give me all the energy I need to keep me happily working until noon.

But I couldn’t focus on the flakes in my bowl for staring at the glaring grammar error. An international cereal company had spent a gazillion dollars to print these boxes without a proofreader to get the grammar right?

Soggy cereal set aside, this was serious business.

This error mimics the fashion faus pax of wearing a brown suit, brown socks, brown belt, one brown shoe—and a one blue shoe—to work. Sure enough, the three items listed didn’t match—two nouns; one adjective.

Mentally, I corrected the headings for them. The copywriter should have written either of these:

This little flake has 3 big things going for it!

* Healthy

* Crispy

* Tasty

OR:

This little flake has 3 big things going for it!

* Nutrition

* Crunch

* Taste

Post cereal packagers are not the only people who make such parallelism errors. (Okay, so I tossed in a grammatical term here. Parallelism simply means that parallel or equal ideas should get equal treatment or expression—all nouns, all adjectives, all phrases, all sentences, or whatever. You get the idea.)

In our business writing workshops and technical writing workshops, participants bring their own samples to class. And by far, the most common parallelism errors occur in lists. They cause readers to do a double-take in determining the meaning. For example, here’s an excerpt from my morning’s email:

For those of you attending the preconference, you’ll enjoy these additional benefits:

1. Opportunity to interact with your peers from all functional areas in the organization

2. Additional resources provided by experts leading the preconference sessions

3. You will have access to a private online library of resources available for the next 90 days.

4. Reduced cost because of the bundled price of preconference and tradeshow programs

5. Reserve your hotel accommodations on a first-come, first-served basis.

6. Survey results (unavailable to the membership as a whole) will be sent to you as a preconference participant.

7. Discussion groups and networking on both Thursday and Friday evenings

Does this parallelism error look familiar now? Items 1, 2, 4, and 7 “match.” They’re noun phrases. But items 3 and 6, as complete sentences, don’t fit the list. Neither does item 5. It’s a sentence, but unlike the other two sentences, it’s an imperative (a command)—and a puzzle. Is that a benefit like the others? Grammar errors frequently lead to clarity problems.

Should I respond to my email writer with a corrected version of the list?

For those of you attending the preconference, you’ll enjoy these additional benefits:

1. Opportunity to interact with your peers from all functional areas in the organization

2. Resources provided by experts leading the preconference sessions

3. Access to a private online library of resources available for the next 120 days

4. Cost reductions because of the bundled price of preconference and tradeshow programs

5. Hotel accommodations available to preconference attendees on a preferential basis

6. Survey results (unavailable to the membership as a whole)

7. Discussion groups and networking on both Thursday and Friday evenings

No, of course, I won’t. That would be rude. I’m going to assume my email writer had dragons to slay today.

But I expect more from Post. They make great cereal. You’d think a company like that could pay an editor to get the grammar right so they wouldn’t start my day off wrong.

 

Dianna Booher, an expert in effective communications, founded Booher Consultants in 1980.  Dianna has written more than forty books in the fields of business communication and productivity.  As a high-caliber keynote speaker who inspires audiences worldwide, Dianna delivers focused programs to address specific communication challenges.

Contact Booher Consultants, Inc. for additional information.

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