There is nothing more daunting for an editorial professional – however seasoned – than leading a workshop on grammar and punctuation for colleagues. The phrase ‘preaching to the converted’ springs to mind.
At SfEP’s 2014 annual conference, which took place among the ‘turrets and towers’ of Royal Holloway College, I led a workshop called ‘Sorting out Sentences’. Rather than offering advice to would-be employees of Her Majesty’s Prisons, it looked at the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation, and good writing techniques.
It was a popular workshop with 13 delegates (despite being somewhat superstitious, I don’t have a problem with 13!) including some very senior proofreaders and editors. I led a similar workshop at an SfEP conference in York a couple of years ago, and was surprised then by the number of experienced people that attended. But where other than a conference for editorial professionals could you say the words ‘grammar and punctuation’ and not be greeted by glazed eyes?
The clue is in the word ‘workshop’
The idea is not just to stand at the front and hold forth – workshops are supposed to be interactive. And there is nothing editorial professionals like more than being given the chance to mull over the mechanics of our mother tongue. Among other topics, we discussed colons and semi-colons, hyphens and dashes, modal verbs, active and passive voice, and ways to avoid leaving our participles dangling. We debated whether less is sometimes more when writing, and considered some words that often cause confusion, such as principle/principal, compliment/complement.
It was a lively session and we all gained something from hearing about each other’s experiences. In fact, it may even have provided a welcome ‘fix’ for those of us who exercise restraint on encountering yet another stray apostrophe when out with family and friends.