I was honored to be a speaker at BlogHer ’12 in New York a couple weeks ago. I was asked to lead two 30-minute grammar clinics in The Writing Lab. The topic was How to Identify and Avoid Common Errors.
The sessions were small by design. We actually had fun talking about grammar and offered each other support and tips for better writing. I think my favorite quote from my sessions was from Annie, the author of Peach Prenni, who noted “My use of the semicolon alone should put me in jail.”
I promised that I would write about our conversations, and as I go through my notes, I think I may end up writing a series of posts.
I will get into some details on common mistakes and resources later. First, I’ll start with the basic tips I shared with the participants in my clinic.
These are the steps that I take to help me identify and avoid common grammatical errors.
- Always proof read! This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but there are a lot of bloggers out there who just don’t take the time to proof read their posts before publishing. We discussed this in my sessions. Part of the problem is lack of time. Sometimes, other duties call, like sleep or kids, and you just have to publish and get it over with. It’s worth it to spend a few moments and double check that you didn’t make any silly spelling or punctuation errors. I shared that I usually write my posts at night and schedule them to publish early in the morning. If I’m too tired to proof read at night, I just make sure I read the post first thing in the morning when I wake up, and I edit any mistake, if needed. I’ll usually catch mistakes before the post is emailed to subscribers and before I share it on social media.
- Write your post and then go back and delete excess words and punctuation. I say this as a trained copywriter. In copywriting, you want to keep things short and simple. You need to say what you need to say, give the reader a call to action and be done with it. I was taught to write first and cut the excess later. I’ll write posts, get everything out of my brain and then determine what just doesn’t need to be there. As I write this, there is an entire paragraph in the beginning that I’m pretty sure will be deleted before I publish. I’ll cut excess words, sentences, and even paragraphs, if they don’t serve a purpose in the post. And I mention excess punctuation because I find many people go a little nuts with commas and ellipses. It can be tough for bloggers to edit, but it helps create tighter writing.
- Read your post out loud before publishing. This trick is so easy and helpful. Read your post out loud. Does it make sense? What sentence or words are you getting stuck on? Delete and re-write the words that just don’t flow out of your mouth. Sometimes, it’s easier to get rid of the stuff that just doesn’t sound good and write it again another way. Ask yourself, what am I trying to say here? This technique is also a great way to pick up typos that you might auto-correct in your head when you’re not reading out loud.
- When in doubt, look it up. I’ll admit it. I look up grammar rules all the time. When I blog, I am constantly fact checking or making sure that I’m using a word or phrase correctly. I noted in the sessions that we all have one or two grammar issues that get us. For example, I can never remember how to properly use lay or lie. Know what you don’t know. Then, look it up!
How do you identify and avoid common grammatical errors?
If you’re interested in checking out some of the liveblogs from BlogHer ’12, you can visit BlogHer ’12 VirtualCon. I believe they are still loading all the resources and photos, but there are lots of good notes from the panels on the site.