You need fast. You need easy. With your busy schedule, slowing down to learn the ins and outs of grammar minutiae isn’t just unappealing, it’s inconceivable. The five minutes it will take you to read this will save you exponentially more time in the future. These quick and simple grammar tips for business writing are based on some of the most common errors we correct:
- Subject-Verb Agreement
For the most part, this is obvious. You don’t write: I are the CEO. The return on investment am bad.
But there’s the less obvious: Nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning usually take singular verbs. Nouns that name a group of people or things take singular verbs.
For example: News travels fast; bad news travels faster. Economics is a fascinating subject, said no one, ever. The company is supplying ergonomic chairs made entirely of pillows. A flock of seagulls does all of our accounting.
- Capitalization in Heads
If you’re unsure when/what to capitalize in titles and headings, here’s a summary. Capitalize everything but:
- Articles (a, an, the)
- Conjunctions (connecting words like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
- Prepositions (words that often show direction, time, and location, such as of, with, to, on, before, into, over, about).
If an article, conjunction, or preposition begins or ends a title, capitalize it.
Some style guides, like AP, call for capitalizing conjunctions and prepositions of four or more letters, phrasal verbs (e.g., Turn Off, Look For) and verbs in an infinitive (e.g., To Be, To Analyze).
Hyphens join words to prevent confusion, especially when multiple adjectives (describing words) are modifying a noun and could be grouped differently, for different meanings.
For example: The know-it-all proofreader wouldn’t shut up about grammar tips. Our customer-facing, data-centric strategy is unparalleled.
But adverbs aren’t hyphenated. This is because they’re obviously connected to the word directly after. Cases in point: “strategically relevant resources,” “functionally illiterate horse,” “highly regarded firm,” “wholly owned subsidiary,” and “aptly named product.”
- En vs. Em Dashes
Hyphens—sometimes called dashes—are used for end-of-line breaks or in compound words (see above).
En dashes, however, are slightly longer than a hyphen. They are most commonly used to separate numbers in a range, like July 3–5, 2038.
An em dash (—) is approximately twice the length of an en dash, or the length of a capital “M.” They serve as a way to set off interruptions in text—some people use them constantly.
Some style guides don’t use en dashes, just hyphens and em dashes. It’s also important to determine whether your house style uses spaced or open en/em dashes. If you don’t use a style guide, consistency is the best course of action.
These are just parts of a sentence that can be removed without changing the meaning. But, because of the sentence structure, commas are used to preserve the intended meaning.
A couple of stellar examples: Our manager, the woman in red, is about to chastise us for eating chips too loudly. The Texan lawyer, to his great chagrin and everyone else’s glee, couldn’t remove the cat filter during a Zoom hearing.
We all know good writing forces readers to keep reading, and we aim to do just that. Come back in two weeks for Part 2 and a free PDF download of the entire guide, complete with bonus tips.
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