Grammar, hate it though some of us may, is one of the most visible things about your writing. Whether you’re a professional writer or a student looking to get good grades on papers, grammar can make and break others’ perception of your writing. Think about it: how many times have you seen misplaced apostrophes or run-on sentences? Does it make you think just a little bit less of the writer? Grammar is so easy to do well and can be a joy in and of itself when done right. Here are a couple easy tips on using correct grammar to enhance your writing.
1. Don’t write like you talk.
This is a natural tendency for many people. In many ways, it just makes sense. But beware! This will lead you down Deep Dark Paths of Unrighteousness. When we talk, we tend to use run-on sentences, adding clauses here and there and every which way. This is fine for oral communication, but looks sloppy on paper. Try to separate your thoughts into distinct sentences. To start with, put each thought down and end it firmly with a period. When you’ve established that habit, start stringing together thoughts with words like ‘and’, ‘but’, or ‘or’. Although you can put many thoughts in one sentence, it’s easier to write and to read if you keep your sentences clean and concise.
2. When it comes to words, less is more.
We’ve all read it: the writer who refuses to step away from the thesaurus. Boring, isn’t it? We don’t need to be told that the grass is lush, green, verdant, emeraldine, and so on and so forth. The grass is green. Trust in the imagination of your readers; it’s better to err on the side of caution with things like this. Clarity and austerity are always better than messiness. If you find yourself reaching for synonyms to tack on the end of your descriptions, stop. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
3. Engage your memory.
Try some simple memory devices to reduce your mistakes. There are a lot of things that are quite easy to mix up. The difference between the words ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’ is commonly forgotten. Try to formulate simple phrases that will help you remember the difference between them. Make sure to use things that are important to you! You’ll remember them better that way. Here’s something I use – “Did you get the invitation to their party? Yes, they’re quite nice. I’d like to go, but I don’t know how to get there.” By associating these words with phrases you say every day, you can more easily see the fine distinctions between them.
Grammar is easier than you think. We read and write so much every day that many of the rules of grammar are subconsciously embedded in you. If it sounds right and looks right, it probably is right. Keep it simple – your words and ideas should be what shine, not your apostrophes and parentheses. If you don’t know how to use, say, a semicolon, then don’t. Your writing won’t suffer for it, you’ll be more comfortable, and your pristine grammar will impress your readers. You’ll seem smarter and more polished, and that’s a win no matter how you phrase it. Good luck!