As with most things, appearances matter. This is especially important when writing and sharing content with your audience. How you write and present informational content, promotional copy, and emails is a direct reflection of both you and your organization. Therefore, any grammatical errors in your material reflects negatively on your company. Here are a few common grammatical mistakes to look out for when writing professional content.
The Oxford Comma
The most famous grammatical error is also the most controversial. Making headlines after a recent court case based its argument on the usage of the Oxford Comma, it has become the go-to subject for people to discuss when it comes to common grammatical errors. With all the controversy surrounding it, you might be wondering what is the Oxford Comma, and what makes it so special?
The Oxford Comma is the final comma used in a list of things. For example: “I would like to invite Jimmy, Laura, Paul, and Andrew.” Without the final comma before “and” the list implies that Paul and Andrew are linked together, whereas with the Oxford Comma, you can clearly understand that Paul and Andrew are separate. This comma is used for clarity, and without it sentences that include lists will appear less clear and less professional.
Preposition Ending Sentences
“Where are you at?” This is a common mistake mostly because it isn’t always a mistake. Colloquially, we do this all the time especially in conversation and informal writing. However, from a technical perspective, it is improper grammar, and could lead your audience to perceive your organization as inexperienced and less knowledgeable.
In proper written English, sentences should never end with a preposition. Prepositions indicate location and link thoughts. You cannot simply be under; you have to be under something.
Colons and Semicolons
A colon serves the purpose of connecting an incomplete thought or a clause to a complete sentence. Think of it as the next step of disconnection after a comma. I provided you with an example of the use of a colon in the first section above when talking about the Oxford Comma. Here is another example: colons can be used when providing a list of items, between two independent clauses when the second illustrates the first, and for emphasis.
Of course, there are several non-grammatical uses of the colon (in addition to a more recent trend of using it to make smiley-faces):
- Time—to separate hours from minutes (12:30 p.m.)
- Ratios—to express a ratio of two numbers (1:3 ratio of vinegar to water)
- Biblical references—to separate chapter from verse (Genesis 1:31)
- Citations—to separate the volume from page numbers (4:86-89)
- Correspondence—after the salutation, a “cc” notation, or a “PS”
Semicolons connect two independent clauses that are closely connected, often connected with a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase. For example: “Giving an example in your writing provides additional clarity; whereas, not giving an example can leave readers not understanding your point.” Semicolons should also be used when you have a list of items in which one or more items contain commas. To illustrate:
Research encompasses many activities including: design, development, and implementation of the research study; data collection, analysis, and synthesis; and report writing and presentation.
Using the Proper Word
There are several words that sound very similar and are commonly switched by accident. Words to look out for include:
- then and than
- its and it’s
- affect and effect
- there, their and they’re
- your and you’re.
Misuse of these words can cause confusion and make the author appear amateurish.
How many times have you seen someone emphatically and passionately post something on social media only to be dismissed due to the misuse of one of these words? The same can occur in a professional capacity. Always be sure to double-check your work for these words to ensure they are being used correctly. And, don’t forget to use your grammar and spell check tool!
I hope these tips heighten your awareness, and help you spot these common mistakes when editing your content or the content of a colleague. Nothing can lead your audience astray or sow doubt in a your company’s capabilities quite like the lack of attention to detail and blatant grammatical errors. Similar to how you dress, speak, and treat others, the way you write results in readers forming a perceived value in working with you and your organization.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
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