Do you break out in a cold sweat when you're asked to write an important document?
Do little beads of perspiration form on your brow when you're assigned to prepare a report? Good writing often is a case of remembering a lot of important little things and not just
observing the basic rules. Develop a keen
||eye for the kind of hard-to-see pitfalls described in this Page and you'll soon find
good writing requires less of the intense concentration it demands of you now.
- Avoid big words. "Send" is simpler than "dispatch" or
"forward". (Also, "forward" more correctly implies "relaying".)
Stick with "use" and avoid "utilize" . . . it's pretentious.
- Avoid future tense when advising immediate action.
Conditional forms (e.g., should be) may incorrectly imply a
- Use "e.g." and "i.e." correctly. Es gratia (e.g.) means
"for example". Id est (i.e.) means "that is"; they are not
- Use singular form when substituting a pronoun for an individual
or an organization. An organization is an "it", not a "they".
It's grammatically incorrect to say "everyone has their . . ."
("everyone" is singular).
- Hyphenate adjectival phrases preceding nouns (two-part form,
up-to-date procedures), but not following them (procedures
are up to date). It avoids confusion. Example: light-coloured
package or light, coloured package (it's confusing without
the comma . . . it could be a darkly coloured package that's light
- A collective noun, e.g., staff, is singular when treated as a
unit (the staff is large) and plural when members or
components act separately (the staff are divided in their
- Having trouble with adverbs? The most common ones end in
ly (I surely -- not sure -- was tired), but
not all adverbs use ly (e.g., now, quite, also); some
adverbs take the same form as adjectives (e.g., if you're facing
difficulty, you're hard pressed -- not hardly
- Use short words, sentences and paragraphs. They're easier to read and don't scare off your reader. Sentences are ideal at 17 or 18 words;
if paragraphs exceed 8 lines, find logical places to break them into shorter units. Most important ... sorry, this paragraph is getting too long.
- Avoid jargon or complex terms. Write to be understood, not to
- Make your text more readable by using active voice instead of
passive voice. Instead of "the Web Page was viewed by the reader",
write "the user viewed the Web Page". Passive voice (something
is done to someone or something) uses more words and is less
personal than the active voice (someone does something).
- Avoid sentence fragments (i.e., a group of words used as a full
sentence, but without the necessary main clause), such as
"Especially in these times." or "Which is the answer to the
question." or "Knowing the answer to the question." (Exceptions are
made for some phrases and words such as "Stop!", "Don't do that.",
"Please leave." and
"What a night!")
- Avoid making proper nouns out of words that do not have that
status. Names of people, places, book titles and specific things
like the CN Tower -- as well as trademarked ® products and even
uncopyrighted services -- are examples of proper nouns or words
that can be treated that way.
- Use "refer to", "make reference to", "referencing" and
"referenced" as verbal forms;
"reference" by itself is not a
- Finish your thought before inserting interjections, e.g.,
"there are four ways (this way, that way, the other way, the fourth
way) to solve the problem" (in this case, put the parenthesis at
the end of the sentence), "He, to my great surprise, ran a
four-minute mile and then fainted."(here, be sure to put the
interjection after "mile", not at the end of the
sentence or you'll indicate surprise at the fainting).
- Unless you're suing someone, drop formal expressions such as
"as per", "herewith", "according to our records".
- Double negatives cancel each other out. "I am not going to
take no ballet lessons" means you will soon be prancing about in a
tutu if you don't revise your ultimatum. Other words that are
"negative" include: nor, just, but, ever, quite, almost, merely,
scarcely, only, nearly.
- Use "preceding" or "following" (instead of "above" or "below")
when referring to text elsewhere in your write-ups. Your text may
get shuffled around and the points to which you're referring may
end up on another page.
- "Return . . . back" is redundant (as in "If you don't want to
be charged with 'grand theft auto', return the car back to its
- Don't pad your sentences. Examples: instead of "maintain files
on a current basis", use keep files current; replace
"examinations are made for the purpose of determining" with
examinations determine; and change "the majority of our
projects are of a temporary nature" to most of our projects are
- Avoid putting partially related thoughts into one, disjointed
sentence. Use a semi-colon to set them apart but highlight their
relationship. Use a colon instead of a semi-colon to set apart an
explanation or to precede a long list of particulars, e.g.,
"Good manners include the following: keeping your elbows off the
table, using a napkin to wipe your lips, not making noises when
eating food, using the proper utensils and avoiding such rude
comments to your host as 'this soup smells like it died last week'."
A semi-colon, like a period, ends a thought (which is what I should
have done earlier in this point).
- Check a dictionary if you have any doubts about spelling. It
takes less than a minute and will catch things your Spell Checker
won't, like using "stationary" (not moving, unmovable) when you
mean "stationery" (writing material).
I don't mean to be intransigent about intransitive verbs
and all those other nifty, grammatical terms, but it was never
my intention to make "Grammar Grabbers" anymore top-heavy
than it is by including a Glossary. On the other hand,
I don't want to leave you subordinating your conjunctions,
so allow me to refer you to the following Glossary link at the
UsingEnglish.com web site. When you're finished, please do
come back to the further Adventures of Captain Grammar.
(No, wait, that was the web site name I threw out.)
Select one of these topics and fly to the appropriate Page:
"Misused Words and Phrases"
"Noooo! Don't Use THAT Word!"
Viewing Grammar Grabbers Pages in sequence?
These are the ones you likely have not seen yet:
"Uncategoriza ... Bill?!"
"Oddities & Entities"
Page Design Tips"
"Professional Writing / Editing Services"
To go back to the top of the Page, select image . . .