Five Tips for Professional Writing

Five Tips for Professional Writing

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You’re typing an inter-office e-mail at an impressive word per minute when you suddenly pause. You’re stuck; your hands hovering over the keys, unsure whether the sentence you’re creating requires the use of “its” or “it’s.”

Ladies, if that scenario sounds familiar, a simple grammar refresher is the answer for you. Cincy Chic has information on five tips that, once incorporated into your writing use, will make your company communication shine.

Avoiding Sexual Bias

You may see this and say "I don’t have sexual bias in my writing." Unfortunately, this was the sort of thing taught by grammarians for years. When writing about an unknown someone or something, old grammar books advised writers to revert to “he” and “him,” as a result shutting out half of the human population. As a way to correct this, modern writers usually choose to use “they” and “them,” which in turn causes their grammar to be incorrect. Here are some examples:

The employee went to their lunch. (Wrong)

“Employee” is a singular noun, so it requires a singular pronoun (which replaces a noun), such as “he” or “her.” “Their,” though solving the problem of bias, creates another problem. One way to avoid this altogether is by changing the beginning of the sentence:

The employees went to their lunch. (Correct)

“Employees” is now a plural noun which requires the plural pronoun “their.” Sometimes our sentence construction doesn’t allow for a change to a plural pronoun, so instead use “his or her.”

A person wishing to inspire his or her boss should be on time to work.

Usually, the best choice for making your writing unbiased is the plural pronoun option because “his or her” sometimes breaks up the flow of the sentence.
Its and It’s/They’re and Their/Your and You’re

Misusing common words is an easy mistake to make, especially when you’re working on a deadline. Preserve your professionalism by learning exactly what they mean:

Its versus It’s

The easiest way to differentiate between the two is to read it’s for what it really is: a contraction of “it is.” If you’re not sure which its/it’s should be used, read “it is” in the sentence. If it makes sense, your choice should be “it’s.” If not, you know the other option:

It’s (It is) not hard to learn grammar when you know the basics. (Correct)

The company changed it’s (it is) mind. (Wrong)

They’re versus Their

Again, the best way to choose the correct they’re/their is to read the contraction as the two words it shortens: in this case, “they’re” is a contraction of “they” and “are.” Like “it’s,” if you’re not sure when to use it in a sentence, read “they’re” as “they are.”

They’re (they are) attending a grammar seminar. (Correct)

The employees are going to they’re (they are) cubicles. (Wrong)

In the second sentence, the possessive pronoun “their” was the correct word, not only because as “they are” the sentence didn’t make sense, but also because the cubicles belong to the employees, so a possessive word was needed in that situation.

Your versus You’re

During my time as an editor and writer this was one of the most common mistakes I encountered. But you can apply the same rule to this pairing as I have advised with its/it’s and they’re/their. You’re, if you haven’t guessed, is a contraction of “you are,” while “your” is a word indicating possession. Let’s see it in a sentence:

You’re (you are) going to a see a positive change in you’re (you are) writing soon.

This sentence has one correct usage and one wrong. Which is it? The first example in the sentence is the correct one, while the second calls for our possessive pronoun “your” rather than “you’re.”

Groups and Teams and Companies, Oh My!

Another mistake I have seen many times in the course of my studies and work as an editor is the misuse of collective nouns. Before you think ‘huh?’ let me explain: a collective noun is the proper name for nouns such as team, group, company, organization, etc. that denote a “collection” of people working together as “one.” Therefore, when using a collective noun such as team in a sentence, it requires a singular verb or pronoun because it is a singular subject.

The team is running circles around its competition. (Correct)

The group are collecting their dues tomorrow. (Wrong)

In the second sentence, “are” and “their” are incorrect, because the singular collective noun “group” needs “is” and “its” to be grammatically correct.

Avoid Passive Voice

A simple way to produce more effective communication is by avoiding passive voice, which refers to a passive construction of the words themselves. What a writer should aim for is a sentence in active voice, in which the elements are arranged as subject/verb/object. It’s easier to understand in examples:

The architect (subject) constructed (verb) a building. (object)

In this active voice sentence, the subject is doing something to something else. Here is the same sentence written passively:

The building (object) was constructed (verb) by the architect.(subject)

Though to a layman this may not seem like a big difference, the difference will be seen in the response it garners in your listener or reader. Action, as we know, gets results.

Spellcheck, then Proofread!

Once you’ve finished composing your office opus, the final step before clicking “print” or “send” is spell checking and proofreading your work. Misspelled or misused words give bosses the wrong impression, so before asking for a promotion, make sure “promotion” is spelled correctly. Also, spell check programs do NOT catch everything. You may mean to say “I read the book,” but you typed “I red the book,” and your spell checker will skip right over it. That’s where proofreading comes in. Once you’ve finished writing, step back for five or ten minutes; take a coffee break or eat lunch. Then, once you’ve given yourself space from your written communication, reread the document checking for spelling and grammatical mistakes. Here’s to a grammarful New Year!

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