Grammar Tips Grammar Test Importance of a Style Guide

"Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them."
John Ruskin
(1819–1900)

"Vigorous writing is concise."
William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style, 1919

Grammar Tips You Never Learned in School

Here are some very simple ways to make your writing more professional and easier to read. These examples use American English and are some of the most common errors I find when editing other writers’ work.

Punctuation

Always put a comma before the "and" or "or" in a series of three or more items.

  • Incorrect: Please send the manuscript to R&D, Tech Comm and Design and Prepress Layout. (Does Design belong to Technical Communications or to Prepress Layout?)
  • Correct: Before I print the final copy of this manual, I must proofread it, create an index, and do a final "page turn."

Place a period or comma inside closing quotation marks. Other forms of punctuation go outside the quotation marks.

Examples:

  • If Mr. Evig wants to “surf the 'Net,” he needs to get a computer. (comma inside closing quotes)
  • Is this music “new age”? (question mark outside closing quotes)

We are past the age of the typewriter! You now can use an en dash or em dash instead of that pesky old hyphen (as in -- ).

Here’s how to do it on a PC keyboard:

  • Use an en dash to express a range of numbers, such as 12–15%. With the Num Lock and KB Lock keys off, hold down the Alt key and type 0150 on the keypad.
  • Use an em dash to denote a break in thought, such as “I was hoping to generate a lot of business—a lot of long-term business." With the Num Lock and KB Lock keys off, hold down the Alt key and type 0151 on the keypad.
  • Use a hyphen to separate the numbers in a telephone number or social security number (such as 800-521-6782) and in compound words and word divisions.

Grammar

Use which, preceded by a comma, to set off a clause that provides additional but unnecessary information.

Example: Go to the second house on the left, which has blue trim. (If the words following the comma were not there, the sentence would mean the same thing.)

Use that, without a comma, in a clause that is important to the meaning of the sentence.

Example: Go to the second house on the left that has blue trim. (If you take away “that has blue trim,” the sentence means a totally different thing.)

You assure people . . . ensure things . . . and insure financial stuff.
Examples:

  • I assure you, I will work very hard. (you=person)
  • To ensure success, one must work hard. (success=thing)
  • The company will not insure my house against flood damage. (flood damage=financial stuff)

Irregardless is not a standard English word. Use regardless instead.

It's is a contraction for it is. Its is the possessive form of it.

Example: Its surface is rough and it’s going to need a lot of sanding.

Capitalization

When in doubt, don’t capitalize.

Don't capitalize things like page 12, item 11, figure 5, section 8, and room 14.

Little words in titles sometimes need to be capitalized.

  • If a word is a verb (is, are), capitalize it.
  • If the word is an article (a, an, the), conjunction (and, but, nor, or, so, yet), or preposition (at, in, from, to, between), then don't capitalize it (unless it's the first word in the title).

Usage

Make sure that items in a bulleted list are parallel, meaning that each item is constructed similarly and begins with the same kind of word (noun, verb, etc.).

Not parallel:

  • going to the market
  • a software manual
  • You must always stay busy

Parallel:

  • going to the market
  • writing a software manual
  • staying busy

Style Guides

Every business should follow the style set forth by an accepted style guide (and should also create an internal style guide). Here are some of the most widely used style guides:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style. 14th ed. 1993. University of Chicago Press.
  • American Psychological Association Publication Manual. 4th ed. 1994. APA.
  • The Elements of Style. William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White 3rd ed. 1979. MacMillan.
  • The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage. 1994. Harper Collins.
  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Harvard Law Review Association.
  • American Medical Association Manual of Style. 8th ed. 1989. Williams & Wilkins.
  • The CBE Style Manual. 1994. Council of Biology Editors.
  • The ACS Style Guide. 1986. American Chemical Society.
  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 1993. (Make sure that your dictionary is a Merriam-Webster dictionary. Just because it says Websters doesn’t mean it's a Merriam-Webster.)

 

 

 






 

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