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How to Write Well - Mastering the Art of Grammar

There is a major difference between the written and the spoken word; while we all shorten words in speech and use phrases that would never be seen on paper, we also do away with such necessary additions as punctuation marks and the need for correct syntax. The written word is subject to strict rules, and it pays to make sure you understand the correct use of grammar if you are looking to pursue a career - or a hobby - in writing.

1: The apostrophe - the most troublesome little mark in written English, many wish the apostrophe could be done away with once and for all. It comes to the fore in many cases that are simple - witness the difference between 'its' - meaning 'it is' - and 'it's' - meaning 'belonging to' - and in many that are far more complex, and it is essential that a thorough understanding of its use is taken on board as misuse can result in confusion.

Remember that the apostrophe is not used to designate a plural - 'cars' means many automobiles whereas 'car's' does not - and you are on the way.

2: The capital letter - another common error is to over-use, or misuse, capitals; they are essential at the beginning of a sentence and when writing names, but not elsewhere. In titles and headlines, however, capitals can be used in all words.

3: Question marks - only use the question mark after a question. This may seem like common sense but the use of abbreviated forms of communication in the digital age - email and sms - has led to the misuse of the question mark on a general basis; it is a strict rule - only to end a question.

4: Maintaining tense - keep to the same tense within a piece. If you begin talking in the present tense - 'John is walking....' - you must continue in that vein or you will find you confuse the reader. This is an important rule that applies to creative writing as much as it does to technical.

5: Commonly mistaken words - some words are very similar to others, yet mean a different thing altogether: than and then, for instance, or affect and effect. Make sure you use the resources available if you are unsure - a dictionary is a handy tool - and soon you will eliminate the common mistakes.

6: The long sentence - in speech we often use unpunctuated long sentences; in writing - whether in print or on screen - breaking up lengthy sentences looks much better and is easier to read. Try a few examples and you will see the difference.

7: The spellchecker - use your computer spell-check facility, but do not rely on it. It is not human, and it does not understand everything. This is one of the biggest mistakes in the misuse of grammar.

Correct grammar enables readers to follow your work correctly, and also makes a good impression: get it right, and you will get noticed.

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