Content Writing is more than just letting your thoughts or information flow onto the screen. While you are it, there is an important factor that cannot be undermined and that’s – Grammar. Having strong grammar skills is a plus point for a writer. Wrong grammar reflects you in a poor light, while good grammar earns you credibility. As writers, we hope to get to a point in our career wherein perfect sentences come naturally to us with ease. While we are still getting there, we need to keep a check on our grammar.
How do we make sure our content is grammatically correct?
Grammar, in general, is a vast subject. This blog is not about teaching you grammar (Hang on, there are plenty of useful examples). This blog is about how you can effectively write on the web and be grammatically right. So, let’s dive into some rules.
Here is a list of techniques to up your grammar game as content writers.
1. Simplify Your Writing
When we write on a public platform, we write for a general audience. Books are usually written keeping a particular demographic segment in mind. But as a content writer, when we write online we write for anybody and everybody who might stumble upon our content and decide to read it.
Writing on the web can mean writing for a mix of people. All are not sophisticated readers. Some are well-versed in the language while some are not there yet. Use words that are understandable by all. This not only serves the purpose of sending the message across but also makes your job easy.
Don’t use buzzwords and jargons just to appear smarter. Use them sparingly if it creates a needed impact. A write-up can be simple yet interesting. We want our content to be easily understood by our readers.
2. Use Active Voice over Passive Voice
Allow me to brush up your memory, just in case you vaguely remember learning it in school.
In the active voice, the subject of the sentence is performing an action. For example, ‘Joy sang a song’. Joy is the subject, sang is the action and song is the object. The subject performed the action.
In passive voice, the object becomes the subject of the sentence. For example, ‘A song was sung by Joy’. Here, ‘song’ is the subject and the action was performed by it.
While writing on the web, an active voice does a better job. It gives out a clear and confident message. Active voice makes the content reader-friendly and engaging. Passive voice can drag the sentence unnecessarily and can be tiresome to the readers. Passive voice is not wrong but active voice makes the sentence more clear and direct.
3. Choose One – American English or British English
No matter what your nationality is, there is no hard or fast rule on which English should be your preference. You just need to pick one depending on your reading audience and stick to it throughout the piece.
4. Maintain The Tense
Keep the verb tense consistent. Don’t switch between past, present and future tenses. Be consistent with the tense throughout the clause or sentence.
Wrong: She ordered a pizza and eats it.
Right: She ordered a pizza and ate it. (Past tense) OR She orders a pizza and eats it. (Present tense)
5. Read It Aloud
Reading your write-up aloud makes you more conscious of the words and you also notice the flow of the sentences. Reading aloud helps you locate any discrepancies or errors in the content.
6. Use Tools
There are a number of free online tools that help you detect mistakes in your write-up and suggest the right action. Grammarly is one such great tool for writers. These tools also make your editing process easy. A tip to using these tools is – no matter how reliable they are, take the suggestion only if you are fully convinced. If you are not buying what they are suggesting, then follow the next rule.
7. When In Doubt, Look It Up!
Look up words even if you are not confident about its use. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked up the words ‘advice’ and ‘advise’ to know which one was the verb and which one was the noun. But now I know, because I made a mental note – ‘the one with an S in it is a verb.’ Also, look up the meaning of new words whenever you come across. To remember your new learnings, make your own mental notes.
8. Stop Making Assumptions
Sometimes without realizing we use words that we assume to have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably. For instance, can the word ‘historic’ be used in place of ‘historical’? Do they share the same meaning? Not really! Historic means having importance in history. Historical means something that happened in the past or in history.
Another Example: everyday Vs every day
Every day is an adjective used to describe something that’s “ordinary” or “normal.” Every day, on the other hand, means “each day.”
Eg. – I think about her every day.
Eg. – Working out is an everyday activity.
9. Don’t Let the Speaker Do the Writing
While writing, we tend to make the same mistakes that also occur to us naturally in our speech. We also communicate in colloquial language on digital platforms and overlook grammar and punctuations. Though we know we are saying it wrong, it’s a habit we tend to neglect. Because while speaking or even while texting our friends we do not pay much attention to grammar, we just want to send the message across. But let’s not bring that into our professional writing. Let the writer (and not the speaker) in you decide if your sentences appear grammatically correct or not.
10. Be Concise and Clear
Expressing a lot in a few words is an art. An art that every writer must endeavour. Every word must play a vital role in a sentence. Eliminate words that are unnecessary, ambiguous or unclear.
I wanted to talk to you with regards to your assignment. (wordy)
I want to talk to you about your assignment. (concise)
‘With regard to’ was replaced with ‘about’ to make it more concise.
11. Always Do a Spell Check
Spelling mistakes can change the meaning of a sentence. We must particularly be careful about ‘Homophones’. They are the words that have the same pronunciation but differ in spellings and meanings.
Examples of Homophones
- loose & lose
- buy, by & bye
- miner & minor
- peak, peek & pique
- vain, vane & vein
12. Invest Time To Learn Grammar
Like I said earlier, grammar is a vast subject. I guess you can never really know it all. Identify your areas of improvement. Where do you often lose confidence while writing? Do you get confused with the tenses or are you unsure about punctuations? Try to figure out the shortcomings in your writing and hit the books. Reading works of established writers helps immensely in improving your language skills.
These 12 guidelines and tricks will definitely improve your grammar. Let’s quickly review them.
As a bonus, a few grammar rules are listed below. These are some of the things you probably might have wondered about.
(1) Starting a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’.
It is acceptable to start a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’.
(2) The Confusables:
i) Fewer Vs Less
Fewer is used in case of countable items whereas less is used in case of uncountable items.
Example: I have less time to finish my assignment.
Due to the holiday season, there are fewer people in the office.
ii) It’s Vs it is
Its denotes belonging or association with something,
Example: I could hear its footsteps.
It’s is short for ‘It is’
Example: It’s her birthday today!
iii) Can Vs May
‘May’ in a sentence represents permission whereas ‘can’ represents ability.
Example: May I take your car to run a quick errand? (Here we are asking for permission, hence ‘may’ is used)
Can you drive? (Here we are questioning the ability to drive, hence ‘can’ is used)
iv) Effect Vs Affect
‘Effect’ is a noun whereas ‘Affect’ is a verb.
Example: The speech had a great effect on me.
The speech affected me greatly.
(3) Confused with Singular & Plural verbs? Follow the Subject-Verb Agreement
The general rule: If the subject is singular, then the verb must be singular. Similarly, if the subject is plural, then the verb needs to be plural.
My friend runs a travel company. (friend-subject- singular; runs-verb-singular)
My friends run a travel company. (friend-subject- plural; run-verb-plural)
The box of chocolates is on the table.
Here, we are talking about a ‘box’ that has chocolates in it. Hence, ‘box’ is the subject and since it’s singular we use ‘is’.
The chocolates (subject) are (verb) in a box (subject) that is (verb) on the table.
Ok, if you are thinking ‘I already knew this’, maybe the below rules will be of help.
i) In an or, either/or, or neither/nor sentence, the verb is determined by the noun or pronoun closest to it.
- Either my dad or my brother is coming to pick me up.
- Neither Jill nor I am available.
- Neither Mike nor his friends are going to the party.
ii) A plural verb is used when two or more subjects are connected by an ‘and’.
- Pink and blue are my favourite colours.
But this rule makes an exception in case of compound nouns (words that go together). Example: The bed and breakfast was a delight
iii) Use a singular verb when referring to distances, periods of time, sums of money, etc.
- Three kilometres is too far to walk.
- Ten years is a long time.
- Thousand rupees is a high price to pay.
iv) In the case of collective nouns such as group, jury, family, audience, population, etc. the singularity or plurality of the verb depends on the writer’s intent. For instance, both the below sentences are correct.
- Most of my family is here.
- Most of my family are here.
Learning a language, be it the grammar, spellings or pronunciations, is a lifetime pursuit. No matter how well-read and experienced you are as a writer, now and then you would find yourself confused over the usage of a word. Before you decide to choose a different word or frame the sentence differently to make your job easier, look it up. ‘Doubt’ is only an opportunity to learn something new.
Online writing is often informal. Not always we can stick to the grammar we once learnt in school. Moreover, languages are fluid. New words get added. Every passing generation invents words that trend for a certain time. So, don’t be overwhelmed while writing. You don’t even have to worry about grammar in your first draft, let the content be the focus. As you write more, you learn more and being grammatically correct will become second nature to you.
If you found this blog resourceful, we would love to know your thoughts in the comments below!