I’ve been doing a lot of audit report writing coaching lately. When I review many reports in a short timeframe, patterns emerge. It reminds me that we all make the same or similar mistakes. It’s only the degree and frequency that vary.
The most common writing offences?
- sentences that are too long (78 words in one sentence, I kid you not)
- frontloading before the subject
- poor sentence structure
- redundant words and phrases
- grammar and punctuation
Do you really need to care about grammar and punctuation?
Yes! If you cannot put a comma in the right place or choose conditional verbs appropriately, BOOM! I have an immediate negative impression of your abilities and your professionalism. Your communication skills matter, and these are the basics.
If you can’t even get the basics right, I might not offer you that job interview, ask you to participate in my task force, or put your name up for promotion. Is that too harsh? I don’t think so, but I’m interested in your opinion.
Does this apply to native English speakers?
I am fortunate enough to work with both native and non-native speakers of English. I can tell you wholeheartedly, being a native speaker is absolutely no guarantee that we can write or communicate well.
Not convinced? Ask the average native English speaker where a comma goes where a comma goes in a sentence and why, and they probably can’t tell you. (Remember that Facebook post: I like cooking grandma and dogs?) So yes, it applies to all of us.
What can you do to improve your grammar and punctuation?
Here are my two favourite resources to make sure your grammar and punctuation are more accurate, no matter your native tongue:
- Practical English Usage by Michael Swan
I’m not sure how well known this book is in English-speaking countries, but it is quite popular for those who are learning English at a higher level. I highly recommend it because it tells you what is right or wrong, and importantly, why. I use it to verify guidance I give to clients on infrequently-asked English usage points.
- The Chicago Manual of Style
I have an online subscription so I can quickly reference the manual from any location. It “provides recommendations on editorial style and publishing practices for the digital age“. I use it as a barometer to check the advice I give my clients when I am in doubt of treatment.
The writing feedback process is critical to long-term learning. It is a way for participants who have taken my workshops to practice the proven writing guidance, techniques and strategies and get individual feedback. But I won’t always be there to give that feedback, so choose your favourite resource to help you write more accurately, and keep it handy.
My final advice?
Run spell check on your document. I realize I’ve given you this advice before, but it’s still an issue. Running spell check is the quickest and easiest way to spot spelling mistakes and phrases or sentences that do not make sense. (I run spell check on every blog, proposal, and training document.)
What are your favourite resources to ensure your grammar, punctuation and spelling are squeaky clean? Let us know in the comments.
Wishing you every success in your writing and your communication.