Thursday October 5, 2017

Simple Grammar Tips for Small Businesses

Grammar Tips for Small Businesses

It probably goes without saying, but poor grammar can ruin a marketing campaign. If your content is riddled with grammatical errors, then odds are your audience won’t view you as much of an expert in your field.

While it may sound unfair, people naturally associate poor grammar with a lack of an attention to detail and general laziness. One study found that 59% of respondents would not buy from or solicit services from a company’s website if it featured bad grammar or obvious spelling errors.

While you should always be using spellcheck, merely crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s isn’t enough. Your writing must be grammatically correct to be an asset for your company. Otherwise, you’ll just be investing time in putting together content that might actively harm your business. 

To help you not only avoid common grammatical errors, but to take your writing to the next level, we’ve compiled some helpful tips.

Active! Voice! 

When writing, be sure to phrase your arguments in an active voice. It just sounds better and is more engaging to read.

A simple breakdown on the difference between active and passive voices is seen here:

Grammar Tips for Small Businesses

As a simple rule, active voice is when the action of your sentence is being performed BY your subject, as shown in the example above. Passive, on the other hand, is when the action is being done to subject of the sentence. For more examples on this distinction, click here.

Get comfortable with the em dash 

An em dash (—) is essentially a longer hyphen. Not to be confused with its shorter cousin, the en dash (-), this piece of parenthetical punctuation is used to separate clauses, the basic building block of a sentence. 

The em dash is like a set of commas or parenthesis in a sentence which calls out an aside or interjected thought — only in a more stylistically pleasing manner, as I just did here.

A simple way to determine when to use these pieces of punctuation is to look at them in order of strength. 

  • A comma is a gentle way to separate clauses. If you don’t want to draw too much attention to this separated thought, then you should use a comma.
  • An em dash has a medium amount of power. Your thought will jump out to your reader but still feel a part of the overall sentence. 
  • Parenthesis are the most extreme. This will really separate your thought from the rest of the sentence and should generally be used to call attention to either specific instructions or completely unrelated thoughts. 

Examples:

Comma: Diamonds, which are expensive, aren't something I buy very often. 

Em dash: And yet, when the car was finally delivered — nearly three months after it was ordered — she decided she no longer wanted it.

Parenthesis: The 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens (May 18, 1980) brought back vivid memories of ash and darkness. 

To write an em dash on a Mac, hit the shift, option and the minus symbol keys at the same time; on Windows, hold down the ALT key, then type 0151. This changes between writing styles, but generally leave a space before and after the dash as well.

Never double space after a period

Somewhere along the line, someone probably told you to hit space twice after each period. Hopefully someone has gotten to you by now to correct this, but if not, cut it out. There is no reason to add two spaces after a period. It just looks weird.

If you find this habit hard to break, perform a find and replace search in Microsoft Word. Depending on your version of Word, there should be a search bar in the upper right hand corner of your document. Click on the little magnifying class and highlight “replace.” This will open up a sidebar where you can search for double spaces and replace them with single ones.

Cut down onThat”

The secret to the word “that” is it is seldom needed. AP style wants writers to basically cut “that” out whenever and wherever possible, for good reason. That should only be used when referring back to something, i.e.: “What are you doing with that?” Otherwise, it’s basically useless. Every sentence with “that” in it is hiding a more concise, effective sentence. 

Examples: 

No one in the group was particularly excited about the agreement that they reached.— Wrong

No one in the group was particularly excited about the agreement they reached. — Correct

Oftentimes, “that” is used as a crutch to try and make sentences feel more official. Removing unnecessary words like this will only strengthen your arguments, however, by more efficiently conveying information to your audience. 

Be consistent with your oxford comma usage

The oxford comma is a comma that comes before a conjunction in a list statement.

Example: I like to eat pizza, hot dogs, and cheeseburgers.

Now, there’s a big debate around whether the oxford comma should be used. Some people swear by the oxford, others can’t stand the sight of it. We have an anti-oxford stance here, so if one of our writers wrote the above sentence, it would read as: 

Example: I like to eat pizza, hot dogs and cheeseburgers. 

Personally, I think this helps the sentence flow better, but really the key here is to pick which side you fall on in this debate and stick to it. Going back and forth between the oxford — especially in the course of one piece — looks sloppy.

Please never write “Utilize”

Utilize is one of the worst words in the English language. Here is a great breakdown of why this is so, but for a TL;DR, it makes your copy seem less human. Have you ever met someone who used this word in everyday conversation? Utilize is just a fancied up “use.” 

Below is a good rule I saw on Twitter:

Grammar Tips for Small Businesses

Keep sentences simple 

In general, try to keep sentences as simple as possible. Long, winding sentences that take too long to get to their point slow down readers or, worst case scenario, lose them entirely. If you ever get stuck with a sentence like this and are unsure how to fix it, resist the urge to add even more words to explain your meaning and instead just start chopping. Oftentimes these long, drawn out sentences hold simple points which can be properly conveyed in only a handful of words. 

Get off your high horse and use contractions

People speak in contractions, so use them (never utilize them, however, as previously noted). Formal writing in school usually bans contractions, but this is a generally bad, outdated rule that makes your writing feel less natural. While some forms of writing (technical, legal) have strict standards which may block the use of contractions, most of your content should embrace it. There is nothing wrong with making your sentences more conversational and easier to read.

Here’s a common list of contractions for fun:

  • I am = I’m
  • You are = You’re
  • They are = They’re (not to be confused with there or their)
  • Do not = Don’t
  • Would have = Would’ve
  • She would = She’d
  • He would = He’d
  • Will not = Won’t
  • Cannot = Can’t
  • Should not = Shouldn’t
  • It is = It’s (not to be confused with its, the possessive)
  • Is not = Isn’t

Too. Many. Words.

Large blocks of texts can be intimidating to readers. Even breaking these portions into smaller paragraphs can still be too much — especially when writing about a topic where your reader will clearly be looking for quick answers.

Whenever possible, rely on:

  • Bullet points (meta)
  • White space
  • Headers
  • Lists
  • Bolded or italicized key points

These will go a long way to making your work more readable. It also, oddly enough, makes it seem like you have more information in the text than if the same thing was all in some long paragraph.

You’re repeating yourself…

Make sure your text does not fall victim to word repetition. This can be as simple as using the same adjective in back-2-back sentences or repeating the name of your product too often.

As a general rule, the more common the word (“the,” for example), the more acceptable it is to repeat. Our ears are trained for them, meaning they don’t stand out as much. An adjective like “excellent,” however, is an example of a less frequently used word that stands out and should not be repeated.

Rely on pronouns and conjunctions to tie sentences together and eliminate unnecessary repetition.

When it doubt, Google it

Even if you follow all these tips, you’ll still likely run into some grammatical trouble spots. When you do, rely on the internet for help. There’s plenty of grammar message boards like Grammarly, along with websites for basically every writing guide out there, that can help you through any confusion you might have. 

And, of course, always use spellcheck.

Written by Scott Rogers
Tags: writing

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