My name is Jenn and I love eating my family and cats.
Wait, no, that’s not right. My name is Jenn, and I love eating, my family, and cats. That first sentence shows how grammar can be the difference between being a foodie and being a cannibal. For the professional writer, it’s very important to be mindful of grammar. A missing comma can not only give the wrong impression, it can cost you a job. Kyle Wiens owns two technical writing companies, iFixit and Dozuki. He won’t hire anyone who uses poor grammar. Even if you get the job, poor grammar is bad for business. According to a 2013 survey, “59 percent of Britons would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material.”
So how can an aspiring professional writer get a grip on grammar? Luckily for us, there’s no lack of resources, both online and in print. Grammarly will analyze your text the way your spellchecker can’t. Remember, your spellchecker sees no difference between “They’re picking up their order over there” and “Their picking up there order over they’re.” If Grammar Girl isn’t on your Favorites list, stop reading this and add her now. If you want to get down to the real nitty-gritty, there are dozens of style guides to be found online.
If paper is more your thing, there are plenty of books for your grammar gratification. You can’t go wrong with Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Fun fact: E.B. White also wrote “Charlotte’s Web.” He gave us good grammar and “some pig.” What’s not to love? But if you’re looking for something less porcine, you can always turn to Lynn Truss’ classic “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” Better yet, ask your local librarian for some grammar books, and you’ve found a friend for life.
Now that you’ve found your reference, be sure to refer to it. That’s what it’s for, after all. If you’re unsure, look it up. Even if you’re mostly sure, look it up. The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison has a helpful guide about common grammar mistakes.
Using proper grammar is an absolute must for the professional writer and no one can know it all. For example, off the top of your head, do you know when to use less and when to use fewer? “There were less than seven” sure sounds okay, but it should be “There were fewer than seven.” If it can be counted, use fewer. Checking your work for dangling modifiers and comma splices may make you feel like you’re back in Freshman English; however, grammar will give your writing clarity and polish.
That’s it from me. Check back next week for a new post about professional writing!