The wide-spread use of email and text messaging has gotten many people into the habit of relying on abbreviations, acronyms, and emoticons. These shortcuts have become essential elements in electronic communication. However, when composing letters, proposals, contracts, memos, or other business documents, online or on paper, it is crucial to adhere to the fundamentals of Standard English writing. That means paying attention to proper spelling, punctuation, and all of the rules of English usage.
That being said, this is a good time to review some valuable writing tips:
- Write concisely, but completely: Write full sentences. Do not repeat, but include all of the essentials in each paragraph. Try to keep paragraphs to 200 words or fewer.
- Spell correctly: Pay attention to your writing so that you spell words correctly. If you are not sure of the spelling of a word, use the spell check function of your word processing program or consult a dictionary.
- Use correct punctuation and usage: Punctuation can be problematic. Here are a few good tips: a) Use capital letters only for the beginnings of sentences, titles, and the beginnings of quotes. b) End all sentences with periods. c) Use semicolons (;) only rarely. They are generally used in place of periods, between two complete sentences that are very close to each other in terms of their topics. When you use a semi colon, do not begin the second sentence with a capital letter; it is a related phrase. The previous sentence is an example of the proper use of a semi colon. d) Write full sentences. A full sentence has a subject and a predicate. e) Do not overuse apostrophes. Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. The plural of doctor is doctors. No apostrophe should be there. Apostrophes are used only for possession and for contractions. Here are examples: That is the doctor’s car…and…I can’t help you.
- Stay on your topic: Of course, each sentence in a document will express a different idea from all others, but, within each paragraph address only one main topic.
- Use the correct format for citing references and for creating bibliographies: Other entries in this blog cover that subject.
- Be consistent in your writing: Use the same spelling for words throughout your paper. Check your written work to ensure that you do not spell, for example, the name of a cited author as Connor in one place and Connors in another.
- Copy quotations carefully: Unless you are copying and pasting text, there is always the possibility that you will transcribe a direct quote incorrectly. This is an error that must be avoided.
- Make sure that words in your sentences agree: Words in your sentences must agree in terms of gender, number, and tense. This is also true of sentences within a paragraph or a longer section of text. For instance, if you are citing a female, then you must use pronouns that refer to females, such as she and her. If you are referring to several cities, do not use the pronoun it. When discussing events that occurred in the past or people who are no longer alive, do not use verbs in the present tense, such as builds or speaks.
- Do not assume that the reader knows what you are talking about: Do not refer to ideas or books or events or people unless you have mentioned them in previous sentences. A writer may forget that the reader does not know the information in a piece of writing as well as he or she does. New ideas need to be introduced and, sometimes, explained.
- Be careful in terms of your spelling of names of people, organizations, etc.: Writing the names of people and organizations correctly is important. For example, it is The New York Times, not New York Times.
Remember, your writing must clearly communicate your message. In formal writing, as opposed to electronic messaging, the traditional rules still apply.