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Should You Use Proper English When Writing a Family History?

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Writing a family history is fun and rewarding; however, what tone should you use? Should you write in proper English when creating a family history book?

If you are a genealogist and you are not writing your family’s history, you’re shortchanging your skill development. If you are like one of our loyal readers and viewers, you might be wondering, “What voice do I write in? I’m not good at writing, so should I use Proper English?”

I am so glad you considered this question, let’s break it apart and encourage you to write your family stories -- NOW!

What is Proper English?

Before we consider whether we should write in proper English in our family histories, we must first DEFINE what that phrase means.

I love how Elizabeth Little, of the Grammar Girl Podcast, said this,

“When we talk about “Proper English,” what exactly do we mean? Do we mean the English that you can take home to your grandmother? Do we mean the English that will impress your boss? Or do we mean the English that everyone will understand?” What Does “Proper English” Mean?

Her post also suggested, “Proper English” carries a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes.

Let’s be honest -- “Proper English” varies around the English-speaking world.

“Proper English” to an American does not mean the same thing to a British speaker, an Irishman, a Canadian, or an Australian. And yet, we all speak English.

Additionally, the correct way to speak English varies within a country. Our livestream viewers from the UK indicated that individuals from London, Devonshire, and Cornwall have very different ideas of who is actually speaking “Proper English.”

Perhaps a better question would be, “What tone or style should I use when writing a family story?”

VIDEO: Should you write a family history with proper English?

Watch this video on YouTube.

Ignore Proper English While Drafting Your Family History

Turn off your inner critic when you’re writing. Don’t worry about whether you should spell the hue variations of an object as color or colour.

When you are drafting, write, or speak your stories in whatever style you naturally write or speak. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

The editing stage of writing a family history will polish everything up. For now. WRITE, or rather draft.

Choose Your Audience After Drafting Your Family History Story

There are five phases to improving your written family histories to take them from boring to amazing. (If you missed that training, catch the 5 Stages of Editing a Family History).

Phase one is Developmental Editing. In this phase, you have to determine to whom you wish to write.

Once you know the basics of your story, you can choose the following audience:

  1. children

  2. tweens and teens

  3. adults -- general audience

  4. adults -- academic or scholarly

Once you have decided who you are writing for, then you can make some determinations about the “Proper English” style you’ll revise your draft to fit.

Additionally, if you’re from England, Australia, Canada, America, or other English speaking areas, you’ll implement your standards based on your country’s rules.

What you’re really trying to decide is:

  1. Audience knowledge level

  2. Whether slang is allowed

  3. Where you’ll publish your stories

  4. What feelings you want your stories to trigger

  5. What’s the purpose of your project?

↪️ Do you want to write a family history book?

Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps to Quickly Write Family Histories

Use Grammarly As You Revise Your First Draft

Once you have determined the more in-depth details of your audience, it’s time to revise your first draft. I recommend using for your initial revision of your family history story.

In this video, I demonstrate how to change the Grammarly settings to reflect your intended audience.

A woman asking the question Should I use Proper English in my family histories

Continue Learning About Writing Family Histories

Review the following blogs and videos for more tips about writing family histories

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