Word Advice

A couple of my family members have recently expressed a desire to improve their writing skills. Never fear! I am here to help. And I must keep up my Galinda image of helping “someone less fortunate than I”. (For those of you still in the dark ages, that’s Galinda the good witch and her song “Popular” from the musical Wicked. My mom suggests that “Popular” is my theme song. Remind me to tell you the story behind her reasoning later.)

There should always be a disclaimer when attempting to educate someone seemingly less fortunate. Here’s mine: English has been something I have loved since I could write a sentence. When someone asks me to edit something, I get excited. It’s like a treasure hunt for me to seek and find errors where I can help. I try not to be snob about these things because I make plenty of mistakes in my writing;  sometimes I catch them after it’s too late.  I’m just saying I have some goods in my noggin and I like to share.

With that out of the way, here are just a handful of quick tips to feeling better about your writing/blogging skills. I’ve limited this lesson to errors I see most often–as in every day.

If you’re using these specific words at all, they may be creeping into the wrong place at the wrong time: It’s TheirYou’reTo – Here

  • Its and It’s.     Rule: If you can say it is or it has in the sentence instead, then use the apostrophe version = It’s.
  • Your versus You’re and Their versus They’re.     Rule: If you can say “they are” or “you are” then use the apostrophe version = They’re and You’re.
  • To vs. Too.    Rule: If you’re talking about something in excess or the word “also” can replace it, then use the double “o” version = Too. The other means something is going to somewhere.
  • Here vs. Hear. Rule: You hear things with your ear.

A few more tips:

  • Overuse of the ellipses–as in dot dot dot or “…”. That’s what the period is for. In general, the ellipses means you’re leaving out words. I promise, a simple period really does let everyone know that your thought has come to an end and a new thought may be coming. (Okay, that was a bit snobbish, but it’s my biggest pet peeve. There is a definite place for the ellipses, but… not there…or there or here…)
  • Not using a period. Short sentences really are okay. Using a period when needed helps our minds divide and digest and better understand what you are saying.
  • All in small caps. It’s a terrible writing habit. Don’t do it.
  • Long paragraphs lose readers’ interest. In this world rampant with ADD personalities and busy people, if you want readers to stay interested in what you have to say, keep your thoughts concise.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you should keep your posts short. Just give us some good meat on that hamburger sandwhich (the paragraph) with just enough garnish for flavor enhancement. Of course everyone likes their burger a little differently so take it or leave it.
  • One space after a period. This one is very controversial because people are really set in their ways. But it makes sense if you understand why it’s been done away with. Two spaces were necessary with typewriters because it was too hard to identify the space between punctuation. That became obsolete with computers, especially in situations where the number of characters is counted. If you type much at all, it won’t take very long to change your ways.

And that concludes our lesson for today. Any questions?

6 thoughts on “Word Advice

  1. I am proud of my ability to recognize the proper usage of these words: It’s – Their – You’re – To – Here, so no problem there. I do love my ellipses though. I use them often and I am sure I never do it properly. As showcased in this comment, I do put two spaces after my sentences. It is a habit that I cannot break (or perhaps one I’m not willing to try to break). I could use some advice on the usage of the semicolon. I’ve never understood how to use them in sentences. I did misspell a word in my last blog post and that literally jolted me awake at night. I’ve still been too lazy to correct it though.

    • Thanks for your comments, Adaire. It’s fabulous that we still learned something from Larry’s English class, despite our being late every day! Or did we?

      As for the semicolon, it is a confusing one. Here’s the way I interpret the rule: It’s about the effect you want. If you have one big sentence that can be divided in two (= clauses) but you want to keep them connected for effect without using an “and” in between, use the semicolon. It is also used between independent clauses linked with a transitional expression like moreover, meanwhile, still, otherwise, therefore, etc.

  2. Good advise. It made me double check my blog entries. I am sure I am guilty of some of these. In this age of instant and text messaging, I think writing skills have declined. I see it often in emails I get from college students, yikes. (I wanted really badly to use an ellipse after “students” but I refrained. Was a comma the correct thing to do?)

  3. I just noticed that Blogger and WordPress take out my extra space before the period in my sentences(at least that is the way it looks to me). All those extra spacebar depressions for nothing!

  4. The only things I remember from Larry’s class are two of the books we read: “Lord of the Flies” and “On the Beach.” (Not sure on the title of that one–nuclear holocaust/winter, Australia and New Zealand inhabitants are the only ones still alive).

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