10 Grammar Tips for Business and Personal Writing

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. My program – Project Management – will complete in Spring, 2015. Over several years of classes, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to interact with people from all over the world. Our program has students from distant locations including South Korea, Afghanistan, the Virgin Islands, and many cities in the USA. Many classes have group work involved, much like real-world project teams.

Teams are usually responsible for submitting discussion papers, projects or research papers related to topics in project management. I am usually the final editor for most group papers. This responsibility is not assigned to me, typically, but I feel compelled to submit the best work possible. If best effort requires extra editing, I will gladly do so.

The reason I edit the final papers is simple – I am a better writer than many of my peers. In virtually every paper, I discover passive verb use, punctuation errors, and run-on or chop sentences. I am disturbed and troubled by sentence starters that read “in the beginning” or have “the” as a modifier. I recall one term where I made corrections to every paragraph of a 10 page paper. These are graduate students, many (not all) writing at a high-school level.

http://www.writing.wisc.edu/

In this post, I will share some common grammar tips that will help many students and business people write better papers and proposals.

Tip 1: READ THE PAPER ALOUD. Many mistakes are found when speaking the written word.

Tip 2: DO NOT USE SEMI-COLONS, unless you know how and when to use semi-colons.

Tip 3: USE DASHES SPARINGLY. Dashes can make writing appear more sophisticated but only if used on occasion. Dashes are used either to indicate sudden changes in tone or thought in a sentence, or to create emphasis.

Examples:

The wonderful – I should say striking – beauty of a harvest moon is a gift of nature.

Warren Buffet’s foundation will help thousands of people in need — truly a generous legacy.

Tip 4: CITE REFERENCES. When drawing from the work of other writers or researchers, you must credit them via references. Failure to do so is plagiarism. Academic institutions often use either APA or MLA reference rules.

APA or American Psychological Association Documentation is easily available on the Internet. A notable and useful website is Purdue University’s OWL site. The Online Writing Lab has virtually all APA-related reference information.

A guide to MLA – Modern Language Association documentation – is here: http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/DocMLACitation_Info.html

Tip 5: WORDS EASILY CONFUSED AND MISUSED.

AFFECT and EFFECT

EFFECT is typically a noun and the result of a cause.   “A tsunami is an effect of an underwater earthquake.” “Fighting with your spouse usually has negative effects.”

AFFECT is typically a verb and used with an object. Affect is often causal. “Pachelbel’s Canon affected Dave deeply.” “A cold spring in Florida affected the orange crop.”

ALOT and A LOT. ALOT is incorrect and not proper English. “A lot” is a great deal or many of something, or a specific term for certain goods purchased or sold.

THEIR AND THEY’RE and THERE. THEIR is possessive: THEIR HOME, THEIR TRIP TO PARIS.

THEY’RE is a contraction of they are: THEY’RE GOING TO A MOVIE. THEY’RE IN BIG TROUBLE.

THERE has several uses. Most typical use is location. Sally is over THERE.

THERE as a pronoun. THERE IS NO HOPE!

THERE as an idiom. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT.

AINT or AIN’T is not (AINT) a word. It is used in certain dialects or geographic areas, but is non-standard.

Many other words are confused and misused. When in doubt, refer to a dictionary.

Tip 6: MAY vs. CAN.   “MAY I go to the bathroom, please?” “Yes, you may go.” One CAN always go to the bathroom, MAY is used for permission.

Tip 7: NEVER USE THE INFORMAL IN A FORMAL PAPER. The informal is “you”, the formal is “one.”

Example: If YOU write a proposal, If ONE writes a proposal

Tip 8: Proper nouns are CAPITALIZED: God, Germany, George, and Jewel are all examples of proper nouns. These are not proper nouns: gods or a god, country, monkey, grocer.

Tip 9: LOSE EXTRA MODIFIERS. Too many use “the” or “that” in front of nouns. I am personally guilty of stating: “I’m going to THE JEWEL”. THE is fluff. “I’m going to Jewel is correct.” “Did you see that the boy went to school?” Did you see the boy go to school? Is correct.

Tip 10: AMBIGUOUS PRONOUN REFERENCES. This is a frequent mistake.

Example: The teacher gave the student her notes.

Who is her? The teacher or student? Her is an ambiguous reference.

A BONUS TIP:

RIGHT vs. CORRECT.  RIGHT IS A DIRECTION, CORRECT IS A POSITIVE AFFIRMATION.

Turn correct at the next light and Those directions were right. Both are incorrect.

Turn right (or left) at the next light and Those directions were correct or accurate.  My military friends constantly point out that RIGHT is a direction.

I hope these ten short writing tips will help. I am not perfect, certainly, but I write frequently and practice every day.

Reference

The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.