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3 Steps to Take the Heat Off Grammar Mistakes

Grammar Mistakes Tips by Barbara McNichol

This article on avoiding grammar mistakes is written by Barbara McNichol, a member of my creative team. Barbara is an expert editor and author of Word Trippers available in Kindle format at Amazon.com. She has edited numerous award-winning and best-selling books. Here’s her article:

Did you know grammatical errors are a hot topic? Yes! I learned that when a blog post about writing connected with Ezine Articles took a subject close to my heart and made it relevant to everyone.

Within 24 hours of posting an article about 6 grammatical errors that make authors look unprofessional, this blog post received 776 views and 93 comments. That’s evidence of how “hot” the topic of incorrect grammar can be!

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

In these days of texting, IMing and all low caps, its easy to take shortcuts to writing.

However, even though we now use our keyboards as we once did our phones, what most people do not understand is how unprofessional the improper use of the English language can make an article, and its author, look. Look at the sentence above again. Does it look professionally written to you?

Now, I’m not saying you need to go back to 9th grade English class and try and figure out where your participles are dangling, but making sure you have a command of the basics is essential.

The post went on to list six common errors that make authors look unprofessional. Five of them are what I call Word Trippers—a pair of similar words with different meanings and spellings that can trip people up, such as loose/lose, affect/effect, it’s/its, their/there, than/then. (The sixth addressed misuse of semicolons, something that riled writer Jeff Rubin so much, he established September 24 as National Punctuation Day.)

Among the blog comments, the most philosophic came from a subscriber named Jenny who wrote, “I am always amazed at how many who consider themselves writers make these mistakes – which are so easily avoided if one is paying attention. Personally, I think they just don’t care!”

Do People Care or Not?

As an editor who deals with these mistakes constantly in letters, articles, and manuscripts, I endorse Jenny’s observation that these problems are easily avoided. But I challenge her statement, “I think they just don’t care.” Rather, I see three factors at play here:

(1) People tend to write in a stream-of-consciousness manner, eager to get ideas down (that’s okay when drafting copy for an ezine). In this creative mode, fine-tuning isn’t the first priority.

(2) “Instant messaging” is just that! People seem to be hurrying to move on to the next thing, feeling good about “getting that done,” and prematurely declaring a written piece complete. They don’t make sure what they’ve written comes across exactly the way they wanted to say it—and that’s highly dangerous.

(3) Writers often lack the desire, discipline, or dedication to revisit their prose with a fresh eye, a clear mind, and breathing space to think it through. Essential!

Half-Baked Prose

I call the result of this propensity to write fast, move on, and never look back “half-baked.” After all, you wouldn’t eat a loaf of bread that’s half-baked. Why would you send out a written piece that isn’t fully “cooked” either?

The solution? Take time to put your writing “back in the oven” and question the key elements: the validity of the thoughts, the logical thread of persuasion, and the correct use of each word.

Yes, gremlins (e.g., incorrect grammar and punctuation) still get through. So do unclear transitions and inexact word choice. Because of these, reviewing your written piece only once simply isn’t enough.

Three Steps to Perfection to Avoid Grammar Mistakes

I suggest if you habitually add these simple steps, you can “bake” your piece close to perfection:

(1) Print your piece and then go to another area to read it aloud as if a 10 year old needed to understand it. You’ll recognize unclear passages quickly that way.

(2) Question each word for its meaning, spelling, and role (or is it roll?) in the sentence. Then take time to look up what you suspect isn’t correct. Don’t rely on memory alone; it can be shaky. Instead, access easy-to-use resources that will make your writing life easier.

(3) Revise, reread, revise, reread . . . until you’re satisfied.

Above all, slow down and think about your readers, be they 10 years old or 100. No one wants to eat half-baked bread, nor do they want to read partly polished prose. Flavor your writing until it’s “cooked” just right!

***

Barbara McNichol edits the gremlins out of articles and professional books. She has created Word Trippers: The Ultimate Choice for Choosing the Right Word When It Really Matters as a resource that keeps writers on track. Visit www.barbaramcnichol.com or contact her at 520-615-7910. Better yet, you can buy her Word Trippers – 390+ of these pesky pairings—as a Kindle e-book on Amazon.

4 Responses

  1. Barbara, thank you for the excellent article. The “half-baked” analogy is perfect.

    I find that mistakes creep in during the editing phase. Recently when editing an article of mine, I changed “bad email” to “bad email habits.” But I overlooked the verb that then needed to change from singular to plural. My new resolution is to proofread–then proofread again–the sentences in which I have made edits.

    Lynn

  2. In the third paragraph of the excerpted blog, “…go back to 9th grade English class and try and figure out…” shouldn’t it read “and try TO figure out…”? Or maybe TO try TO figure out.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just picky. And I seriously doubt if I punctuated all that correctly!

    Other than that, I loved your article, especially the three concise steps.

  3. Lorna Sutton says:

    What are “all low caps”?

  4. Thanks for all your comments.

    To respond to Lynne, yes, please proofread and proofread again. Thanks for emphasizing that!

    To answer Lois’s question – it comes down to personal preference if you want to use “to” or “and” in this context. My preference is “try and” but “try to” is also correct. Lots of rules are a little murky :).

    To respond to Lorna’s question – I think the writer meant all caps in this context, although there’s an option in Word to do small caps (all caps but smaller than the initial cap). The point of including this is to show how unclear writing results from taking shortcuts and being in a hurry — perfect example!

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