Joel Pierson, editorial services manager for AuthorHouse, once said, “Nothing kills the credibility of your work faster than a book that’s filled with mistakes.”
Whether you’re writing a book or a short email, this statement holds true.
A recent Fred Pryor seminar on mistake-free grammar and proofreading reminded us that the most obvious grammar violations are often due to “comfortable” writing habits.
Here are our top five takeaways.
(While some of these may be no-brainers for many writers, sometimes even a simple refresher can help you avoid miscommunication or confusion in your messaging.)
1. Don’t Run From Semicolons
Do you use semicolons on a day-to-day basis? Many people are scared of this grammatical tool and often prefer to substitute the semicolon with the word “but.” Although grammatically correct, the word “but” often leaves the reader with a negative perception. Try replacing this undesirable word with a semicolon. Semicolons make your writing more clear and concise; do not be afraid to use them!
2. Make That Voice Active
Your writing will instantly become more dynamic and powerful by using active voice instead of passive voice. If you aren’t sure about the tone of your writing, use the Microsoft Word tools (pictured below) to educate yourself on the readability of your writing and to alert you on the percentage of passive voice used.
3. Know Your Dashes
em dash (—)
- This is often used to denote a pause in thought. It can also put emphasis on a thought.
- Examples: Help the planet by following the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle. Despite his history, Sam — the unluckiest man alive — won the prize.
en dash (–)
- Denotes the range, especially of numbers.
- Example: The chapter includes pages 35 – 45. He was champion from 2001 – 2006.
- Used to join two or more words into a single thought. An Associated Press Stylebook can help you determine whether or not a word should be hyphenated.
- Example: State-of-the-art
4. Avoid Pair Confusion
There are many word pairs in the English language that are commonly confused, including:
If you’re unaware of the differences between these words, you might end up relaying a very different—and perhaps unintentional—message to your audience. For example, while you may mean to say someone is impartial and not prejudiced (disinterested), it could instead give the impression that someone did not care and lacked interest (uninterested)—which could cause an unnecessary PR situation. When in doubt, a quick visit to Merriam-Webster could provide some clarity.
The written word is powerful and one of the best tools in your storytelling arsenal. Don’t let simple grammatical mistakes confuse the message you’re trying to send.
What other grammar slip-ups do you think hinder company messages?
Abby Bretl is a Marketing Coordinator and Irina Finley (who also attended the seminar and helped write this article) is a Marketing and Media Coordinator at Core.
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