Whether you’re taking high school English or college-level Communications, chances are you’ve had some exposure to proper grammar and punctuation rules. When you were in grammar school, your teachers probably drilled it into your head that punctuation matters and that capitalization matters.
But what about when you’re writing professionally? Does proper grammar only matter when you’re trying to impress your high school English teacher? Not at all! In fact, proper grammar is extremely important in business writing, as well as in any type of document where you’re trying to make an impression on someone.
Here are ten quick tips and tricks to help you improve your grammar, regardless of the type of document you’re writing or the audience you’re targeting.
Anagrams: Always try reading the sentence in an alternative way
can you rephrase it using an anagram? A great way to improve your grammar is by challenging yourself—and your readers. Use anagrams to force a reader’s brain into new shapes, causing them to make unexpected connections.
Here are some examples: It’s always nice listening to quiet music while reading my books. If I drive fast enough, I can still get back before the sun rises. Better yet, use both forms of a sentence (anagram + normal).
It will be more fun for you and your readers, plus it will give you something extra on which you can base a discussion or conclusion.
Don’t could of, would of, should of it
When using have as a helping verb, you should always use of instead of an apostrophe. The reason is that of is more precise—it indicates possession without committing you to whether it’s your possession or someone else’s. For example, it’s acceptable to say Jane could have gone shopping if she had wanted.
If you insert an apostrophe before have, however, you imply possession by Jane—and in reality, it might not have been her choice at all. Additionally, never use contractions with could of, would of, or should of. Replace them with could have, would have, and should have respectively (even though they sound incorrect).
Double-check before you publish!
Don’t assume your colleagues or teachers will find grammar mistakes in your work. Check for errors before you submit. If you’re not sure about a rule, ask your teacher for clarification before using it on an important assignment.
Be prepared: Relying too heavily on spell-check can be as dangerous as driving with faulty brakes—you might end up where you want to go, but things could get messy along the way. Make sure that everything you hand in has been proofread by yourself at least twice (once before content edits, once after).
Read more books!
Here’s a tip you probably never heard before. The next time you’re in your local bookstore, choose a few books on grammar from different genres (such as fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books).
Read through them for about an hour each day for 10 days. You will quickly absorb a lot of useful knowledge—and have fun doing it! If you want to learn more than just grammar rules, look for titles that explain how language works or offer tips on writing well. If you don’t know where to start, try one of these: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., On Writing Well by William Zinsser or Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
Have someone else proofread your work
We all know that it’s important to have someone else proofread your work. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a research paper or an email, having someone else take a look at it is always helpful. If you can get someone in your field or who has some knowledge of writing, that would be ideal—but if not, enlisting a friend will do just fine.
Get as many pairs of eyes on your work as possible; even if they don’t catch every single mistake, their feedback can help guide you toward areas that need improvement.
Don’t use contractions with it
The correct grammar here is, It is not its. The word it’s (note that apostrophe) is a contraction of it is. And because contractions don’t allow for possessive nouns (because they are, in fact, shortened forms of sentences), using it’s in place of their will cause an error every time you do so. Remember: It Is Not-Its!
Study punctuation rules
They’ll help you use grammar in a natural way. One of them: don’t use too many commas! In lists, you can use commas between all items except for one, which should get a semicolon. Know your apostrophes: Apostrophes are used mostly with contractions like doesn’t or won’t or with possessives like ‘s.
Don’t overuse them; if you find yourself using an apostrophe every other word, reconsider whether it’s necessary or if you’re missing out on a good opportunity to simplify your sentence structure.
When in doubt, look it up! (There are lots of useful websites out there!)
If you’re writing an email or text, having a solid dictionary app on your phone will save you from embarrassing errors. If you’re not sure if it’s discreet or discrete, a quick Google search can help clarify. By choosing one word over another in writing, we ensure our meaning is crystal clear—and make mistakes less likely.
With all of our many technological advancements these days, it can be tempting to get lazy with grammar; but sloppily written communication should be avoided whenever possible. Not only does it reflect poorly on us as individuals, but poor spelling and sentence structure also disrupt reading comprehension—not good when we’re trying to deliver crucial messages that require understanding.
Don’t start sentences with conjunctions or prepositions.
A sentence starting with a conjunction (And, But, Or, etc.) or a preposition (e.g., At, In, Of) is generally a bad sentence. If you want your writing to be more concise and powerful—and avoid potentially getting yourself mocked on Twitter—avoid starting sentences with those pesky little words that can often be edited out of your sentence without changing their meaning.
For example, “I went running yesterday morning at five-thirty.” “I went running yesterday morning at five-thirty but was too tired after work so I skipped it.” See how simple that was?
The above ten tips are only some of the many grammar rules that you need to remember. Keep in mind that your use of them will vary depending on what industry you’re in. It can take years of dedicated writing practice before your grammar skills become instinctive, but with a little effort, you can improve every day.
In fact, if you were going to judge me solely by my grade school essays, I would never have found success in business—so much for A+ papers! Good luck!