Day 28 – A Rough Guide to Grammar

31 days to write better text by Denise Fay : Achieve MarketingGrammar is one of the hardest things to get right when you’re writing an academic paper or a report to the boss. Copy, on the other hand, is a bit more forgiving. Promotional material that makes up copy is all about readability. Your material should relate to the reader, build a rapport and be engaging. Simple.

Grammar helps you to add clarity to your writing. Just remember the purpose of grammar is to assist your reader with understanding your message and taking an action afterwards.

Most of the grammar that you were taught in school still applies but times have changed since then…no matter what age you are! Unless you’re writing to a professor or your old English teacher, you don’t need to follow the letter of the law precisely with grammar.

Here are some basic grammar rules that you must apply when writing copy. I regularly see mistakes with these six items when editing copy.

1. a, an

Many people write with the belief that a goes before a word that starts with a consonant and an goes before a word that begins with a vowel. However, the use of a or an isn’t determined by the first letter, it’s actually determined by it’s sound.

Think about it. Which reads better:

  • He was given an honorary degree
  • He was given a honorary degree
  • I gave him a utility bill
  • I gave him an utility bill
  • We have a one-year old son
  • We have an one-year old son.

It’s very important to read your document back to yourself, outloud if possible. That way you hear, and see, the readability of your document.

The correct versions are:

  • He was given an honorary degree
  • I gave him a utility bill
  • We have a one-year old son

2. Subject Verb Order

Generally sentences follow a structured order: subject-verb-object.

  • I write promotional material
  • She is an entrepreneur
  • He runs marathons
  • They answer the phones

Sometimes however, to make the text more engaging or to emphasise a point, the subject-verb-object order is changed. The verb appears before the subject. Be careful of using the reversed order as the sentence can appear cumbersome. Also, you could use the plural and singular use of the verb incorrectly.

Cumbersome Sentence

Continuing to be well received is the programme, 31 days to write better copy, by an increasing audience.

You will see that the verb (continues) precedes the subject (the programme) and object (audience).

Always think about your audience when you write and how they’ll read the sentence. A better way to change the sentence is:

The programme, 31 days to write better copy, continues to be widely read on a daily basis.

Plural or singular

Enclosed is my Curriculum Vitae and referee details.

The subject (CV and referee details) and the verb (is) do not match. CV and referee details are joint subjects and therefore the plural version of the verb should be used.

It should read:

Enclosed are my Curriculum Vitae and referee details.

Think about it in the verb-subject-object approach if you get confused. It will help determine whether the verb takes the plural or singular version.

My Curriculum Vitae and referee details are enclosed.

3. Contractions

Contractions are where we combine two words to make them one using an apostrophe.

  • He will becomes He’ll
  • She is becomes She’s
  • I am becomes I’m

In copy, contractions are allowed because they sound like the way we talk. Using I am or he is can often seem quite stilted or formal. Use contractions depending on your style of text.

4. It’s, Its

Leading on from contractions, the main one you’ll encounter is it’s or its.

It’s is a contraction of ‘it is.’

Its is possessive, just like his or hers, generally for an inanimate object or collective.

Take the following sentences:

“It’s my intention to reduce the workforce by 10%.” said the CEO.

Contraction: It is my intention

X industries to reduce workforce: The company announced at a press conference of its intention to reduce the workforce by 10%.

Possessive: Company announced its intention

If you’re still not sure, think of it like this:

X industries to reduce workforce: The CEO announced at a press conference of his intention to reduce the workforce by 10%.

5. affect, effect

Two words that have different meanings yet are used inter-changeably for the wrong reasons.

Affect is a verb

Effect is a noun

Think about the two words in terms of other words to get the meaning right.

  • Affect can be replaced with change
  • Effect can be replaced with result

Let’s look at the following sentences to see the difference between effect and affect:

  • Her attitude was affected by the redundancies.
  • Her attitude was changed by the redundancies.
  • Her attitude was resulted by the redundancies.
  • The effect of the redundancies will be reduced staff-morale.
  • The result of the redundancies will be reduced staff-morale.
  • The change of the redundancies will be reduced staff-morale

Replacing ‘affected‘ with ‘resulted‘ and ‘effect‘ with ‘change‘ changes the entire meaning of the sentences. They don’t make sense and remember grammar is supposed to add clarity to your message.

6. Starting sentences with And & But

These were no-no’s when I went to school. However, we start phonetic sentences with but & and, so the same applies when writing copy. You want your text to read as if you’re having a conversation with your reader. If that means starting a sentence with and or but, that’s fine. Use them. Just don’t over use them.

Over-using them at the beginning of the sentence shows your lack of knowledge of language. You should use other words to start your sentence if you begin to rely on them too much.

These are just a few basics of grammar. I can give an entire full day workshop on grammar. Hopefully these will set you on the right path.

Day 28 – Homework

Look at the main pages of your website.

Read them aloud individually.

Hear how they read.

Change any grammatical mistakes you find.

About the Author

Denise FayI'm Denise Fay, an international marketing communications advisor. For over 16 years, I've been helping corporations and business owners to promote themselves by communicating the right message with the right audience. They achieve clarity, leads and sales. I'm also an award-winning author, engaging speaker, entrepreneur, business owner and mum of two, I have written copy that has won awards, won clients and most importantly, built relationships. Because at the end of the day, it all comes down to how we relate to others. And writing great copy that engages with your reader is well worth its weight in gold. You too can find wealth in your relationships. I can guide and help you find your words, create an engaging message and build a relationship that results in repeat sales with your customers & leads. Contact me today to get started. Come find me on Google+View all posts by Denise Fay →

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