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Write Clearly, Write Concisely, and Write Correctly

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Some would-be writers think they can dash off an article without learning the basics of grammar. Just as any craftsperson spends time honing his skills to make the perfect piece of craft, so must a writer work hard to write an error-free, grammatically-correct article. True, some errors are typos, but this reflects a certain laziness on the author's part. A writer should closely examine his article before sending it off.

Don't trust your spell checker. No automated spell-checker can alert you to every error. Whose and who's, lose and loose, quiet and quite, its and it's are all legitimate words, but your spell checker won't underscore them in red as potential style usage errors. Spell-checkers are not clever enough yet to tell which word you meant to use. And if the error is not due to a typo, it means you need to consult a dictionary to check any uncertainties. Many writers recommend using WhiteSmoke English Grammar Software ( to improve their word processor's spell checking and correct style usage errors.

Remember using a word ending in " 's" means there is a letter missing. "It's" means "it is." If you are unsure which one to use, try saying the sentence both ways.

For instance . . .

"It's a good day today / It is a good day today." The latter example makes perfect sense, so it is okay to use "it's."

But . . . .

"Here is a rabbit. Its burrow is over there."

Does, "It is burrow is over there" make sense? No.

Of course if you said, "The rabbit's burrow is over there," then the apostrophe denotes possession (and only one rabbit), not a missing letter.

"The rabbits burrow is over there," (with no apostrophe) means there are several rabbits.

For the record, "loose" means not tight, while "lose" means you've lost it.

"Who's" is short for "who is," but "whose" is the possessive form of "who" (as in "Whose is that car?") .

"Quiet" means "hush", while "quite" is an adverb (which should usually be left out).

"I felt quite silly," sounds better as, "I felt silly".

"I felt like an idiot," may be even better.

Sometimes rules of grammar inhibit good writing. If this is the case, feel free to break the rules, otherwise your writing will become pedantic and mechanical. One such rule is you should not begin a sentence with a conjunction. You can use both "and" and "but" to begin a sentence, or even a paragraph, but not to end one. Starting a sentence with either of these conjunctions can be a natural transition to carry the reader forward.

A rule of style tells us to never use the same word twice in a sentence; but if you have to search for several other clumsy substitutes to do the job, then please repeat. Repetition of someone's name is a little different. You can easily replace it with "he" or "she" as the sentence progresses.

A persistent myth posing as a rule tells us not to end a sentence with a preposition. Winston Churchill made fun of this by stating, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." Of course a sentence may end with a preposition. A good rule is to write the way you speak. But unless you have grown up speaking English, ignore this rule too.

A few more pointers . . .

1) When writing an article, watch that you don't repeat information unnecessarily. Even if you use different wording, it still gives the reader the impression that you think he was too dumb to get it the first time.

2) Use short sentences more than long ones, but do vary the length. Use a free readability tester at to determine if your readers can read and understand your content.

3) Break up the text by using bullet points, or asking a question. Why? It will add interest and prevent your reader falling asleep -- or simply turning the page.

4) Use short paragraphs too. This will make the job of reading it all seem much easier. In this fast-paced world readers are mostly in a hurry. If they come to a huge block of text with no white space, they'll usually skip most of it.

If you keep these tips in mind, your articles will keep both editors and readers happy.

Jesse Dawson is the author of "Can YOU Read Me Now? How to Use Readability Formulas to Write for Your Target Audience," a free e-book available at He is a contributing writer for, a free website that helps writers and non-writers learn about english grammar. He also serves as a forum moderator at, where he helps writers and non-writers fix English writing problems.

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