As more companies create customer-targeted content for their websites, the grammar police seem to be out in greater force. And that can create writer's block: Many business owners stress about writing anything at all, for fear of using incorrect grammar that will be made fun of across the Web.
Last month, a post in the OPEN Forum community provided this advice on writing and grammar:
"As a writer, I was told that I should simply write and write some more. I was afraid my grammar was bad, and I had made an F on a theme in college I never forgot, and had no confidence that I could write a sentence. As an attorney I wrote briefs but I felt they were no good. But I kept writing, and soon lost my fear, realizing that this next piece wasn’t going to win a Pulitzer ... Get [the writing] out of you. It can always be fixed to perfection later. Few artists give birth to the work in perfect form. If you cannot write it for one reason or another, get it written by a professional. Don’t delay. You are unique, and your idea will perish with you if you don’t preserve it."
Part of creating your own content is to do exactly that: Write. Just write. After all, you can't become a better writer if you don't practice your craft.
But there also are some basic grammar mistakes almost everyone makes, no matter how good (or bad) a writer he or she is. If you can learn to get these right, you're off to a good start.
- Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that "affect" means "to influence." So if you're going to influence something, you will affect it. If it's the result of something, it's an effect.
- Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use "impact" as a verb, use "affect" instead; see #1.)
- Their, they're and there. You'd think everyone would have learned this rule in fourth grade, but it's a very common mistake. Use "there" when referring to a location, "their" to indicate possession, and "they're" when you mean to say "they are."
- Care less. The dismissive "I could care less" is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you're saying you could care less about the topic, and you've lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word "not" after the word "could," as in, "I could not care less."
- Irregardless. This word doesn't exist. The word you should use is "regardless."
- Your and you're. Another mistake you'll often see in people's social media profiles or other content they create is the incorrect use of "your" and "you're." If you mean to say "you are," the correct word is "you're." Use "your" when referring to something that belongs to "you," as in "your business."
- Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, "less" refers to quantity and "fewer" to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.
- Quotation marks. Among the great debates, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside of quotation marks. Let's set the record straight. The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the exclamation mark and the question mark go inside when they apply to the quoted matter (if it's not the entire sentence) but outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
People make so many grammar mistakes today that The Elements of Style is on its fourth edition. If you keep a copy of it on your desk and practice your craft, you'll never have to worry about the grammar police paying you a visit.
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