Business Writing Tip #122—Comma Splices

If you come from Australia a Splice is a kind of ice-cream on a stick.  It’s made up of ice cream encased in frozen fruit flavoured ice.  pinelime spliceIn grammar the most common splice we talk about is the comma splice.

But before I talk about comma splices, we need to think about independent clauses. What is an independent clause? It is a group of words that can stand on its own. In effect it is a sentence. It doesn’t need anything more; it can stand alone.

For example you might have the following two sentences:

  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow.
  • It will be in the large conference room on the second floor.

These sentences can each stand alone, but the ideas are related, so you might wish to join them.

Because they are independent clauses, it is regarded as wrong to join them with a comma. This is what is called a comma splice.

  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow, it will be in the large conference room on the second floor.

To be grammatically correct, if you wish to join them, and you don’t wish to use a coordinating conjunction (remember FANBOYS – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), you have three choices:

  • Join them with a semicolon
  • Write two separate sentences
  • Rewrite the clauses so they form one sentence

So the correct sentence will be:

  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow; it will be in the large conference room on the second floor.
  • The meeting will start at 2 pm tomorrow. It will be in the large conference room on the second floor.
  • The meeting, which will be in the large conference room on the second floor, will start at 2 pm tomorrow.

Another example

Comma splice (incorrect)

  • The photocopier often malfunctions, however management has so far refused to replace it.

Correct

  • The photocopier often malfunctions; however, management has so far refused to replace it.

And another example

Comma splice (incorrect)

  • In 2010 the firm’s profit was up 10 percent from the previous year, by 2013 it had tripled.

Correct

  • In 2010 the firm’s profit was up 10 percent from the previous year. By 2013 it had tripled.

Remember . . .

The rule is that if the two parts of the sentence can stand alone, you need something stronger than a comma to join them.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #121—Post-Writing

Walk away :)

Walk away!

 

Now to the final stages of the writing process.

If you have followed stages 1 to 4 you have a fairly solid draft. It has all the information in it that you need, and all the information is in the right place in the structure. But, if you’ve followed my instructions, you may have typos and grammar errors. Now is the stage to fix these.

Stage 5—Editing

Up until now I’ve been saying ignore any spelling and grammar errors because I didn’t want you to spend time fixing them if you were going to turf them out in the review stage. (Time is too precious.)

Start by looking at those red and green lines and getting rid of them (but don’t always believe that your spell and grammar checkers are correct). Check your sentence structures. Make sure you have spelt the words correctly. Find suitable transition words and phrases to help you move from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph. Fix your punctuation.

This process can take some time, but it’s where your draft becomes a piece of writing. Stage 5 is the time to make your writing the best piece you can possibly create. It’s also a good time to recheck that everything is there and in the right place.

Common errors to check for at this stage

  • Verb and subject agreement
  • Overusing particular words or expressions
  • Unclear relationships between sentences and paragraphs
  • Too many ideas in a paragraph
  • Unclear reference words—do you know what they refer to?
  • Overusing vague qualifiers (for example, quite, as in Quite a few people responded. Be specific. Twenty-five people responded.)
  • Using jargon that your audience might not be familiar with
  • Overusing the passive voice

Final Stage—Proofreading

This is it; you’re almost finished. Now it’s time to polish away those last few greasy fingerprints.

First take a break. You will have read your writing so many times by now that your brain thinks it knows what is on the page, so it may be difficult to see your errors unless you create some distance. At least 15 minutes, but an hour, or even a day or week is better if you have the time.

Read your work out loud. Word by word. This will help you hear if you have used any words too often, or if you’ve missed out a word. It will also help you see your mistakes.

Watch out for:

  • Common homonyms (words that sound the same) and typos. You know the ones. Should it be:
    • Too, to or two
    • For or four
    • It’s or its
    • Piece or peace
    • There, their or they’re
    • Hear or here
    • Who’s or whose
    • He or the
    • Affect or effect
    • Advise or advice
    • License or licence
  • Make sure that you have both opening and closing parentheses and quote marks.
  • Delete words you don’t need.
  • If you have used UK English, make sure everything is UK English. Same for US English. Check for consistency.

And then . . .

When you’re happy that everything is correct, walk away and start your next project.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #120—Writing

It’s time to move on with our writing process.

In my last post I talked about pre-writing—two stages of the writing process that involve thinking up your ideas and deciding on the structure. Spending time on these steps will help you write. You won’t need to worry about thinking up ideas at the same time as you are worrying about whether something should be in a new paragraph. Your idea thinking is done.writing tips cover image

On to stages 3 and 4 of this writing process.

Drafting

The next step is to put your ideas into the structure—drafting.

Don’t worry about grammar and spelling. The important thing to remember is that you are merely going to write sentences, as they come to you, that put your ideas into the structure.

Resist all temptation to take any notice of red and green lines in your word-processing program that suggest you need to fix something. Please ignore those lines. Just write.

Reviewing

Once you’ve put your ideas into the structure you have a first draft. It is rough and probably full of errors. But that’s okay. Just keep ignoring the errors for the moment. Instead focus only on the content.

  • Do you have enough information for each section or do you need to find some more?
  • Is there something there that really isn’t relevant that you should cut out?
  • Does it seem as though all the ideas are in the correct place in the structure or do they need to be moved?

After answering these questions, go and find the extra information, delete the things you don’t want, move the things that are in the wrong place.

The reason I suggest you ignore errors in the review stage is because there is no point spending time perfecting a sentence that you are going to throw away. You will have a chance to fix everything in the post-writing stages. I’ll tell you about those in my next post.

Business Writing Tip #119—Pre-writing

Today I was reminded about the importance of pre-writing. Most of my tips have been about the words on the page, how they are joined, and the like. But the most important thing to remember in business is that your words are there to convey a message.writing tips cover image

If you’re not clear about your message, no amount of good writing is going to make it easy for your reader to understand. This is where pre-writing is important. For me, pre-writing has two stages:

  1. Invention
  2. Structure

Invention In the invention stage I note down all my ideas about the topic. I think about the audience. I jot down anything that comes into my brain about the topic. I don’t censor myself; I don’t edit ideas out as ‘stupid’ or ‘wrong’. I give my mind free rein to wander where it will. At this stage I use mind maps because I can easily draw lines to show links between ideas. Some people like lists. Use whatever works for you.

Structure Once I’ve finished inventing I look at my notes and, in most cases, the notes fall naturally into groups which form a clear structure. It might be as simple as intro, body, conclusion for a short text. For a report it could be summary, intro, idea one, supporting arguments, idea two, supporting arguments . . . recommendation. It really depends on what I’m writing.

Only when I have completed these two steps do I actually start writing. And when I do start writing, I’ve already made decisions about who I am writing for, what I am writing, and the main structure of my piece. This leaves my mind free to think of how best to express my message.

Business Writing Tip #118—Discourse Markers

discourse markers pdf imageIn this post, I’m starting with some jargon. Discourse marker is a term used in linguistics. ESL teachers use it regularly when teaching students to write, but we also use discourse markers when talking. So what is a discourse marker? In his book Practical English Usage, Michael Swan says they are words or phrases that can be used to:

  • Show the connection between what a speaker is saying and what has already been said or what is going to be said
  • Help make the structure of what is being said clear
  • Indicate what speakers think about what they are saying or what others have said.

They show the connection between what is being said and the wider context and we use them to make our text stick together, to make it ‘cohesive’.

So, discourse markers are used in speaking and in writing. Some of the informal discourse markers are often used in informal emails.

I’ve put together rather a long list of these so, instead of including them as part of the post, which was difficult to do without the list looking rather ugly, I’ve created a downloadable pdf.

 

Business Writing Tip #117—Why Good Business Writing Skills Are Important

 

In this post I would like to share the ideas of business writing expert Heather Baker from her book Successful Business Writing, on why good business writing skills are important.

According to Ms Baker there are three main reasons good business writing is important. business writing tip on screenThese are to:

  • Communicate your ideas precisely and concisely
  • Establish relationships
  • Convey an excellent image of your organisation

In her book she speaks about all three. I’ll just provide a quick summary here.

Reason Number One: to communicate your ideas precisely and concisely

With the widespread use of email, work that might previously been completed by phone is now done through email. Not only is there a huge number of emails, but people treat them informally and don’t put much thought into them, resulting in unclear messages which have to be clarified.

Reason Number Two: to establish relationships

Every time we write to someone we are building a relationship with them. We may not have met them, but we still have a working relationship, or even a friendship. If we don’t think carefully about how we are expressing ourselves, we might, unthinkingly and accidentally, offend our readers. By carefully choosing our words, and by thinking about our messages, we can ensure that we are building positive relationships, rather than negative ones.

Reason Number Three: to convey an excellent image of your organisation

Whether you’re writing a letter or an email, by consistently using high standards, expressing ideas carefully and precisely, and using professional layouts, you create an impression on the person who is receiving your correspondence. Think about how often companies take the professional look of correspondence into account when choosing suppliers. I’m guessing your organisation doesn’t want to lose customers because the staff can’t be bothered with good business writing.

So that’s it in a nutshell. You may not think it’s important; you may think that informal email is always okay. But your writing reflects on your organisation.

Happy writing.