We routinely search the Web when we receive letters to the editor that we suspect may be part of an organized campaign. It fries our grits to publish a letter and later find out it’s an exact copy of one being sent out by multiple people to papers all over the country. (It doesn’t happen very often; we’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the “astroturf.”)
In checking out a letter criticizing Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels for an executive order banning guns in city parks, I stumbled onto an interesting Web site, www.opencarry.org. A blog posting on its forum was aimed at gun-rights folks who want to write letters “to people who have authority.”
The posting offers this advice:
PLEASE, if we’re sending letters to people who have authority, use CORRECT SPELLING AND GRAMMAR. It makes us look like rednecks/hillbillies when we DON’T use it correctly, and it sets us apart from the “unwashed masses” when we DO use it correctly.
Actually, what inspired me to check the letter in the first place was that it was error-free. That’s usually a dead giveaway that it’s "astroturf." Real letters from real people – and I certainly wouldn’t use the term "unwashed masses" – usually include a misspelling or misplaced punctuation of some kind. If they didn’t, who would need editors anyway?
The posting offered grammar tips that would apply to any letter writer. Here they are:
“Your” is not the same as “You’re”. “You’re” is short for “you are”. “Your” is used to show possession, ie. “It’s your car, not mine.”
Apostrophes mean possession, so don’t say “citizen’s” unless you mean that something belongs to the citizen. If you’re talking about more than one citizen’s possession(s), put the apostrophe after the last letter.
“This law applies to all citizens’ guns.” – Multiple citizens.
“This law applies to a citizen’s guns” – One citizen.
“This law is applied to the guns of citizens” – No possession, so don’t use an apostrophe!
“Its” is not the same as “It’s”
“Its” means possession (it’s an exception to the normal apostrophe rules)
“It’s” is short for “it is”
I will be happy to proofread and/or edit any letter or correspondence you want to send. I can’t guarantee I will be 100% accurate, but every little bit helps. If not me, then get at least someone to proofread it for you. Thank you.