Monday, November 9, 2009

Mini-tutorial on writing: part two

As an editor and writing coach, I run across the same grammatical issues over and over again. With the help of a colleague (thanks, Jack!), I’ve assembled this “writing tutorial,” which addresses some of these.This information, presented in alphabetical order, should assist you in writing professional, clear, succinct, and grammatically correct books, articles, and promotional materials. Although some grammatical information is given, other information is a matter of personal style and format suggestions based on a couple of decades of professional writing and editing experience. Naturally, the style and format suggestions are only recommendations. As with any of this, it can be viewed as an editor’s job anyway, but the fewer the problems, the less editing will cost you in the long run.I’ll be running this as a several-part series. I hope you’ll find it helpful!

Capitalization. Avoid inconsistent or grammatically incorrect capitalization in titles and section headings. Refer to The Chicago Manual of Style for rules on capitalization. For instance, articles such as “a,” “and,” and “the” do not get capitalized unless they begin the title or heading.

Casual Writing. Nothing is more unprofessional than casual writing in a technical or trade publication that purports to having been written by a knowledgeable professional for readers who purchase the publication. Professional writing should not project a sense of “hominess;” it should be clear, succinct, and informative. Also, avoid using personal pronouns in writing; although a writer may be writing about lessons learned in the field, the reader does not need to be told this. Choose “This publication gives the reader information relevant to rights and permissions based on substantiated . . .” instead of “I provide the reader with information. . . .” My guess is that the reader does not want to hear it—especially busy professionals who have their own background and experience in various fields. You want to increase your sales without risking turning readers off and thereby potentially losing sales. You have excellent and invaluable information in your publications; ensure buyers/readers are focused on this concept only. The Elements of Style
by Strunk and White is an excellent reference.

Clichés. Avoid using any and all overused terms since readers may perceive this as a sign of an inexperienced or lazy writer who cannot come up with an original thought. This is English 101 in its purest form. It takes more time and effort to avoid clichés, but that is what separates the writer from the inexperienced writer. Note that I could have said “separates the men from the boys” but I did not because it is a cliché. See The Dictionary of Cliches for
a good reference.

Commas vs. Semicolons. When you have items in a series that contains some commas with individual items, use semicolons to separate each individual item. For instance, “Gary Smith; PO Box 15092; New Orleans, LA.”

Compose/Comprise. This is almost universally done incorrectly!! The correct use is “composed of” and “comprises”—never “comprised of.”

Compound Words. Be careful when compounding words. Understand that “set up” is a verb but “setup” is a noun.

Confusing Words. Know the difference between such words as “insure,” “ensure,” and “assure,” as well as “compliment” and “complement.” See the following three references:

Consistency. It is okay to use “E-mail,” “e-mail,” or “email.” Just pick one and stick with it.

Contractions. Avoid contractions in formal writing. However, understand that in some cases it simply would be too awkward to use the contraction as in “. . . but wouldn’t we all”; you would not write “. . . but would not we all.” Also, be sure you understand the difference between a contraction and a possessive. For instance, “its” does not have a possessive; use an apostrophe only for the “it is” contraction. And plural possessives have the apostrophe after the “s” as in “students’ book bags.”

Definitive Language. Avoid statements such as “all such and such is like this.” It is much better to write, “Often, such-and-such is like this” or “A large body of knowledge indicates that such-and-such exists.” No one can know everything about something.

1 comment:

  1. Sue,

    Very helpful. Will you combine all these into one (searchable) post when you are done. That would be great!

    And thanks for the link on your blog list, much appreciated.