When I taught high school students, I told them intelligence and good spelling were not directly correlated. You can be a very bright person and a very poor speller. Additionally, semicolons and ampersands are easy for some people while exponents and factorials are easy for others.
It was my pet peeve, in fact, when creative people told me that they were not good writers because they struggled with grammar. Punctuation does not equal plotline.
For that reason, I never graded on spelling or grammar when it came to in-class assignments. Essays, however, were different. Why? For several reasons, really. When you want to excel at any craft, you need to check your work, regardless of the subject. Also, if you want others to take your words seriously, you need to take them seriously as well. And let’s be honest. There are countless tools at your disposal when it comes to editing—not the least of which is a peer reader who can help catch things you miss.
So if you’re even remotely interested in other people reading your work, it’s good practice to take time and try your best to create clean writing.
You might be nodding your head in agreement or shaking your head in frustration. No matter who you are, I’m here to help! Here are ten tips regarding errors I see when reading drafts of even professional writers. If you master just a few of them (or bookmark this page), you’ll be on your way to cleaner copy.
- Pay attention to commas. This is much easier said than done. In fact, the more I learned when training as a copy editor, the trickier commas became for a while. Our team would have entire debates on commas (more on that later). But don’t get overwhelmed. Editors rarely assume you’ll get all your commas just right. However, here is one tip to help you along. Reader, when you’re talking to someone, separate the name with a comma. It doesn’t matter where the word is in the sentence, friend. Even if it isn’t a common noun, dear, you’ll be glad you set it apart with a comma or two.
- You may be interested in learning another comma rule, and I’m happy it to show you. Take two complete sentences with a conjunction in between, and add a comma right before the conjunction. It seems so trivial, but it can help your readers in big ways.
- Chill out about certain “rules.” Really. You can add a fragment here and there. And you can occasionally begin a sentence with a conjunction. I can cite plenty of sources to make my case, but the trick is that you don’t want to overuse either one of these conventions, just as you wouldn’t want to overuse complex sentences.
- You know the word towards? Nope, you don’t. It’s toward. And it’s also not afterwards. It’s afterward. Simple, right? You’re welcome. Both are variants, and dropping the s in both will impress your friendly editor.
- I would of told you . . . wait. I would’ve told you. In other words, I would have told you. I should have told you. I could have told you. See that? Use have, not of.
- Do you type with two spaces between every sentence? That was super helpful when we used typewriters. If you’re one of those fun, eccentric writers who still uses a typewriter, good for you! If not, just use one space between sentences. I know it’s a habit. You’ll get over it, and you’ll make your editor very happy.
- Semicolons are helpful. You don’t even need a conjunction with a comma to connect two complete sentences; you can just pop a semicolon between the two and be done with it all.
- You can use till. You can use until. Please don’t use ’til.
- These words are different: affect and effect, stationary and stationery, allude and elude, compliment and complement. Pick a pair, learn the difference, and impress your friends.
- There’s this thing called the Oxford (or serial) comma. It’s the comma you use before and when you talk about puppies, kittens, and bunnies. People get into fights about this punctuation mark! Here’s my advice: unless you write for a newspaper, it’s safest to use the comma.
So there’s a start! Is this helpful? If so, I’d be happy to do this from time to time. Just remember that grammar and syntax are your friends. Don’t let them ruin your writing life. Also keep in mind that we all make mistakes. I’m sure I made a mistake in this blog post. First of all, no one reads behind me. Second, there’s this thing called Muphry’s Law, and it stinks.