February edition, 2019
Seven tips to kick-start your writing
From time to time, we need to stand back and re-assess our writing skills to make sure our writing is clear, concise and engaging.
It’s a truism that the more you write, the easier and quicker it becomes.
Just don’t expect writing to be quick and easy all the time, because it’s often difficult even for professional writers. Some emails can be quick, but complex, thoughtful pieces can take ages.
Find a writing process that works for you. Some people plan thoroughly first, some jot down a few points on the screen or on paper, and others just start writing. I heard Lee Child describe fiction writers as ‘planners’ or ‘pantsters’. I think many of us are somewhere in between – we write a few dot points or headings and then start writing.
Comma splices and run-on sentences
Comma splices and run-on sentences are common problems in business writing. So what are they?
They are both comma errors.
A comma splice occurs when you use a comma to join two independent clauses (also known as main clauses). An independent clause expresses a complete thought and can stand alone.
The train was late (independent clause)
I walked to work (independent clause)
The train was late, I walked to work. (comma splice)
As a general rule, a comma is not strong enough to join two independent clauses.
Readers’ questions and comments
I wrote about favourite sentences last month, and a reader sent this one:
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.’ (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities).
Enquiry vs inquiry
On my website, I have a post on enquire vs inquire where I say that the dominant form in US English is inquire/inquiry, but in Australia we tend to use enquire/enquiry for general queries, but inquire/inquiry for more official investigations.
A reader challenged me, stating that Australians just use enquire and enquiry.
I did a bit more research and stand by my original statement. What do you think?
A reader commented that he’s noticed two usages recently that he finds abhorrent:
- Badged used as a verb to mean ‘branded’ or ‘known as’ (badged as a conservative).
- Helmed meaning ‘to lead’ (helmed an orchestra). Using helm as a verb is not new (the business he hath helmed, Shakespeare), but he notes that when used as a verb, helm should have a sense of steering rather than leading.
I haven’t noticed these usages, but I am sure I will now!
Not my finest prose!
A marketing guru pointed out that my promotion of my new Writing and Grammar Bundle in my last newsletter was not the clearest prose I’ve ever written. I wrote:
This year I have introduced a Business Writing and Grammar Bundle, which gives people 30% (A$237) off the Business Writing and Grammar, Punctuation and Usage courses. The price for the bundle is A$553.
He suggested: Normally $790, Now $553, Save $237.
Dog breeds and medical terms
Following on from a blog I wrote recently about capitalisation, here’s some capitalisation trivia. We use initial capitals if the dog breed or medical term is named after a person or place.
Capitalise the proper noun, but use lowercase for the generic word, e.g. Scottish terrier. There are a few exceptions, e.g. Great Dane.
- Afghan hound (from Afghanistan)
- Airedale terrier (from the valley of the River Aire, England)
- Parkinson’s disease (Dr James Parkinson)
- Alzheimer’s disease (Dr Alois Alzheimer)
Interesting stuff about writing
Meet the guardian of grammar who wants to help you be a better writer
Benjamin Dreyer sees language the way an epicure sees food. And he finds sloppiness everywhere he looks. He’s the copy chief at Random House and has written a book, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Read more or listen to a podcast.
Five ways to clear up fuzzy writing
Lynn Gaertner-Johnston gives a good example of the slippery this, but I don’t agree with her that e.g. and i.e. always need to be defined first. What do you think? Read more.
Why do people say ‘Yeah, no’?
I’ve not noticed this expression, but apparently it’s quite common. Read more.
More than 69,000 HSC certificates issued with the wrong date
Are dates and numbers harder to proofread than words? Read more.
6 reasons why every college student should take a creative writing course
Why just college students? Creative writing courses are fun. Read more.
The Chicago Manual of Style
Did you know you can post questions to The Chicago Manual of Style? Read the latest questions.
How to read 80ish books a year (and actually remember them)
This article made me reflect on how quickly I forget what I’ve read.
Quote of the month
‘To write simply is as difficult as it is to be good.’