Grammar Tips and Clarifications for Online Writers

Oct 16, 2013
Jason Baumann


This week is Chicago Ideas Week, an annual gathering of global thought leaders created to provoke new ideas and inspire actionable results. In honor of this great mission, I have decided to dedicate my blog to those who are sharing their ideas online. Perhaps the most basic and essential tool for “idea-sharers” is the blog. On Monday, I wrote about the power of the blog and introduced readers to Tumblr.

Today and tomorrow, with the blessings of my junior high English teacher (Mrs. Julie Powers-Fitzgerald), I am writing about the common grammar errors that plague the online community. Today I will concentrate on some of the structural problems. Tomorrow, I will write about commonly misused words.

Structuring Your Writing
I remember in my elementary school years, our teachers would force us to write outlines before we wrote any major literary work. I used to hate it. We used Roman Numerals for major sections, then capital letters for subsections, etc. But as I look back it was a very good practice and today I incorporate it into almost everything I write. From emails to my daily blog, I always start with planning the structure of the document. You do not have to write a formal document, you just need to plan what you are going to say. This is will make you a much better writer and your readers will better comprehend and more enjoy your content.

Subject-Verb Agreement
This a basic rule of grammar that most everyone understands. The rule states that a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb. The instances where this gets tricky are when the grammatical number of the subject is unclear or the wrong noun is used to determine the agreement. I could publish pages of examples but I don’t think that is necessary. My recommendation is to double check longer, more complicated sentences to ensure perfect agreement.

Run-on Sentences
run-on is a sentence in which two or more independent clauses (i.e., complete sentences) are joined without appropriate punctuation or conjunction. Thank you to Wikipedia for that great definition. This is largely a style issue. When writing for maximum clarity, always remember that more short sentences is clearer than fewer long sentences.

Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about a concept. An example of this would be:

Having just written his blog, Jason took a long awaited nap.

This is an acceptable example because it is clear that “Having just written his blog” describes Jason. An incorrect example could be:

Having just written his blog, a nap was desperately needed.

In this example, “Having just written his blog” does not describe anything after the comma. Believe it or not, this occurs so often in business letters. In fact, I often re-read all my writing to make sure I don’t leave anything dangling!

These are just a few examples of some of the common mistakes that I see in online content. Remember that everything you publish online reflects your brand. Keep it simple. Keep it professional and make sure it is correct.

I would like to leave you with three recommendations: always re-read your writing before posting; ask a co-worker to read with fresh eyes; and, buy a copy of the AP Stylebook. Refer to it with any questions and always treat it as your bible.

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