Thursday, 15 December 2011

The illiterate guide

Having finally bought myself an iPhone, I popped into WH Smith yesterday and picked up one of several guides to the device that were on sale there. I now wish I’d spent a bit longer making my choice, because The Ultimate Beginners’ Guide to iPhone (even the title is slightly off-kilter) is without doubt the most poorly-written commercial publication I have ever seen.

Even just skimming the first few pages on the train home, I spotted several typos: ‘sinked’ for ‘synced’, ‘piece of mind’, ‘fore more see page 37’... Further tell-tale signs of illiteracy soon revealed themselves; ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ used interchangably, commas and hyphens either used wrongly, or omitted when they were needed, and of course the grievous overuse of exclamation marks.

Above all, the English is just appalling. Take this sentence: “Amazing seems to little of word to describe it’s performance!” What’s amazing is how many errors the writer has managed to cram into 10 words - errors a GCSE student would be ashamed of. The whole guide reads as if it’s been hurriedly translated from a foreign language, or written by a non-native speaker, and I suspect one of these is the real explanation. Either that, or James Gale (named and shamed as Editor on the contents page) and his colleagues at Black Dog Media are just rubbish at English - which makes publishing a spectacularly poor career choice for them.

I’ve spent much of my career as a sub-editor, so I take bad writing personally (not to mention the fact that I spent £8.99 on this piece of illiterate garbage). But there’s more to it than that. The real issue here is that this is supposed to be a technical guide; if the authors can’t spell simple English words correctly, why should I trust them when they’re giving me instructions on how to set up my iPhone, or listing technical specifications or statistics? It’s bad enough wherever it crops up, but in non-fiction in particular, poor spelling and writing undermines the entire enterprise.