Grammar can save lives!

By Ruby Nelson-Will

Well … at a stretch grammar can save lives.

We are probably all guilty of accidentally telling Grandma we may eat her for dinner, and luckily with spoken language these mistakes are not as noticeable to the listener. However, in written language they are much more noticeable and you may have made it the whole way through primary and secondary school without even understanding the difference.

In Australia we don’t tend to learn grammar rules like they do in other countries (e.g. did you know that we have 2 types of verbs: transitive and intransitive?) Language is also always evolving and changing … I mean in the past 10 years or so googled has become a verb and now we have to decide if an emoji can finish a sentence, or do we still need a full stop? And of course Microsoft Word has definitely made our lives easier (and my spelling worse), but we still must take Microsoft’s advice with a grain of salt as it can often be wrong.

I proof read a lot of documents, and I am by no means a complete expert. But after volunteering to spend both a Friday and Saturday in The Good Copy classroom to learn about grammar I feel the need to pass on a few tips of the trade.

As a communications agency it is especially important that we communicate effectively. Language is so important, particularly when telling a story, so if we can’t put a sentence together, how are we supposed to get our point across?

The Good Copy identifies the ‘big four’ errors that most commonly occur and should be the first to fix. I won’t go into these in huge detail, but I suggest reading up on these if you ever feel the need to scratch that grammar itch.

The Big Four:

  • Dangling modifiers
  • Bad joins and comma splices (sounds tropical huh!)
  • Demoting parentheticals
  • Broken lists

In a fast paced work environment we don’t often have much time to proof read a document.  But those 15 minutes you’ve been given, before the document needs to be printed and bound ready for a presentation, are vital. So here are a few of my hot tips to help use your time effectively:

  • Before finalising a document make sure you always read through what you’ve written, then get someone different to proof read it to check it all makes sense as it can be hard to self-edit.
  • Look for one problem at a time. I will usually read through and do a copy edit (checking for content, structure and style) then go back and do a proof read (looking at spelling, punctuation and grammar).
  • Use plain English to effectively deliver the message to the reader, then add any bells and whistles once you’re sure your point has been made.
  • Consistency is key. Create a company style guide (ideally prior to having 15 minutes to proof read a document) to ensure the grammar is consistent in written works. Then focus on your ‘inner alarm system’ that notices when something isn’t quite correct, and refer to your style guide. The magic is that you don’t have to remember everything: google is your friend!
  • And also… please never do this!

If you fancy a laugh, I’ll leave you with this amusing link to some brilliant grammatical errors:

What’s your pet hate when it comes to grammar? Do you have any burning questions that we can help answer?