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Grammar Girl Podcast — Some Thoughts on Grammar as a Topic for a Podcast

by Tom Johnson on Feb 26, 2007 •
categories: technical-writing

Grammar Girl is the latest subject of the DMN Communications podcast. The Grammar Girl podcast covers ... you guessed it, grammar. What's surprising is the popularity of this podcast. The popularity prompts a thought-provoking question: in a world of degenerating language, where sentences are massacred in text messages, poorly written blog posts, reader comments, user forums, and other social media, why does anyone care so much about grammar?

Yet apparently people are eating this podcast up. It was one of the top podcasts on iTunes for a while, on the same playing field as ChinesePod and Ask a Ninja. Part of the appeal of the Grammar Girl podcast, whose tagline is "Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing," is the brevity and focus of the show. But mostly people want to make sure their writing is correct. In the minds of many, correct grammar = good writing. I once worked for someone who asked me to guarantee that the copy I edited was 100% free of grammar errors, as if that ensured quality.

The late Charles Darling's site on grammar was one of the most popular on the Internet. He responded to thousands of questions about grammar that users submitted. When I was an composition instructor, I created a site that contained a bit of grammar instruction. The site covers more than grammar, but it still receives about 1,500 hits a day.

Some classics have been written on grammar — Fowler's Modern English Usage, Strunk and White on The Elements of Style, the Chicago Manual of Style. In a Brian Oberkirch interview with Guy Kawasaki, Guy explains he wishes he could write a classic and names the last two (Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style), as if they epitomized timeless prose.

Personally, although I occasionally listen to the grammar girl podcast, I don't find it that compelling. She seems to read a script and often times plunges through some thick concepts and rules, which require full concentration. You do feel like you're learning, or at least reinforcing your knowledge (definitely an appeal for podcasts). And she does include examples and mnemonics. But I find it dry. There's not much debate or depth, and I'm wondering how long the show will last. At some point she'll be repeating the same content or will be forced to reach further and further into the arcane. Nevertheless, she is also shaping, on a large scale, the language of the Internet. So for that, I say thank you Grammar Girl.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.