LAWRENCE — A poster hanging in Lisa McLendon’s office window tells passers-by that “grammar is not a secret code.” That’s what she’s hoping to help people understand with her new book: Grammar is something they can master, and it will help them share their ideas through writing and speaking in a credible, understandable way.
McLendon, coordinator of the Bremner Editing Center in the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, has written "The Perfect English Grammar Workbook: Simple Rules and Quizzes to Master Today’s English." The book not only explains the rules of grammar and why they are important, it also provides exercises readers can use to practice them in engaging ways. And it does so in an approachable and, more importantly, nonjudgmental way.
“I hate the term ‘grammar cop.’ I prefer ‘grammar cheerleader,’” McLendon said. “I’m a proponent of grammar and want people to feel confident using it. People can be intimidated but often forget language is a tool and you are its master. You use it. It doesn’t use you.”
As coordinator of the editing center, McLendon, a longtime copy editor and journalist, works with journalism majors and students taking journalism classes to improve their grammar and writing. She also builds and maintains an online grammar course that is a prerequisite for journalism classes. The course features numerous exercises to help illustrate the rules of grammar. That fit well with what publisher Callisto Media Inc. was looking for.
“The book dovetailed very nicely with that course, and it was a very logical extension,” McLendon said. “They are a new media publisher that researches a lot of data to find out what people are searching for and then create books to fill that niche. They found out people wanted a grammar book with exercises and examples.”
“The Perfect English Grammar Workbook” features 17 units, one for each part of speech, as well as sections on composition, spelling and style, sentence structure, abbreviations and more. The book is designed to allow readers to skip around to sections in which they might need guidance and can be used repeatedly without being read in chronological order. Each unit features a quiz covering the entire chapter and, of course, exercises readers can use to put the principles they’ve learned to practice.
The book is designed for everyone from high-school-level teenagers to adults and working professionals, but it is useful for anyone who wants to improve their writing.
“Especially adults who might find themselves in a job where they’re writing more than they thought they would and might want to check things,” McLendon said. “I wanted to de-mystify grammar.”
While the title is “The Perfect English Grammar Workbook,” the author says that even if people hit “excellent” on their way to perfection it will improve their writing and help them share their message in a clear way that will ensure they are taken seriously and show respect for readers. The text can also show people who may think they have poor grammar or are not good writers that it is not as hard as they may think. People have often had negative experiences in their past with someone was critical of their work or made them feel they had poor command of grammar. In fact, most native English speakers have likely internalized the rules of grammar even if they can’t identify exactly what they are.
Students often come to McLendon with questions about misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, subject pronouns, homophones, comma use (including the sometimes heated debate on the Oxford comma) and many others. The book covers all of them and even points out that what are often considered hard and fast rules, such as it’s always wrong to use passive voice or it’s always incorrect to say “my friend and me,” are not always true. And the exercises help point out why that’s the case and let readers practice proper use.
“The Perfect English Grammar Workbook” is available on Amazon, IndieBound and BarnesandNoble.com. McLendon said her first goal is to help people realize they can write well in a friendly, nonthreatening way.
“There are a few little tricky spots, but occasionally people just need something explained in a different way and the light bulb comes on,” she said. “Not doing so in a prickly, threatening way is how to approach it. I view it as more of a pep talk than a scold.”