Sunday marks National Grammar Day. Who knew? Self-proclaimed grammar nerds across the country, I assure you.

To celebrate, I offer these tips and insights into proper grammar and good writing from Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl. Fogarty, who produces the podcast "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing," and I spoke recently about everything from the Oxford comma (she's a fan, and I am not) to corporate speak and editing tricks. 

1. Don't capitalize random words.

Fogarty's biggest grammar pet peeve is when people capitalize words that don't need to be capitalized, which happens a lot in corporate writing. Words like Sales People are capitalized, because companies want everyone to know they have the best Sales People.

"People in businesses definitely think if it is important it must be capitalized," Fogarty said. "That's not how it works in English. We capitalize only proper nouns."

2. Always get a second set of eyes on your writing.

Something I say all the time: "Everyone needs an editor, even an editor."

Fogarty, of course, agrees. We all make mistakes. Typos and spell-checks go unnoticed all the time. You need someone else to look at all of the most important written materials that your company produces -- website copy, contracts, annual reports, business proposals. 

"Whenever you can afford a copy editor, you should definitely use one," she said. "Otherwise, it can have substantial long-term negative consequences" on your company and people's perception of its trustworthiness.

If you can't afford to keep a copy editor on staff or hire one on a freelance basis, your second set of eyes can be a friend or colleague. I'm lucky, because I happen to be married to my favorite editor. If nothing else, read aloud what you have written and you will always find something to correct, Fogarty said. She's right; this is a trick I've done for years.

3. Know your audience.

So much to do with writing is about knowing your audience. Fogarty and I chatted about it in regards to corporate speak and jargon, which I hate. Lots of companies could immediately upgrade their writing by ditching corporate phrases like "strategically aligned" and "uniquely positioned" and "turn-key solutions" for something like "We work with other smart people to bring you products and services that will make your life better."

Fogarty seemed less concerned with corporate speak than I am, but admittedly she's never worked in a super corporate environment. But we both agree that internally, some jargon or corporate lingo is OK. But when communicating with the outside world, you're best off using language that means something to your larger audience.

4. Google is your friend.

There's no excuse for not knowing when to use "effect" and when "affect" is the word you want, said Fogarty, adding that before she became Grammar Girl she would often write around grammar rules and avoid words and techniques she didn't know well.

My two go-to online resources for word, grammar and style matters: Merriam-Webster and the AP Stylebook. And my kids like asking Alexa how to spell words; not sure how I feel about that. They're resourceful, I guess.

"If people realized how easy it was to find the answer, that would give them more freedom in their writing, and they would develop more skills," Fogarty said. "And over time, their writing would become more rich."

Published on: Mar 2, 2018
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