When you’re part of a writing community, such as EzineArticles.com, there comes a time when you’re asked to copy edit a friend or family member’s work. This recently was the case for me when I accepted a request to review a friend’s magazine.
After an hour of review, I was surprised by the sheer number of grammatical errors and attempted to negotiate how to constructively help my friend. There were three stages to our conversation:
- Denial – “You’re too strict,” she said.
- Anger – Frustrated and feeling cornered, “I was never formally educated in school” she spat out.
- Bargaining – “Don’t worry about punctuation or sentence structure,” she told me. “Just look for spelling and misused words.”
Now I was confused. Punctuation and sentence structure are part of good grammar!
Self-Made Writing Genius
This entire scenario reminded me of so many self-made authors who never formally learned their craft – they taught themselves. Take for instance the great orator and author, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. In and out of various rural schools in Kentucky and Illinois for short periods of time, Lincoln estimated he had less than a year of formal education. Shortly after Lincoln arrived in Illinois as a 21 year-old-man, he sought out a grammar teacher to learn more about the English language. With the help of his teacher and the modest book “English Grammar and Familiar Lectures of 1828,” Lincoln taught himself English grammar.
Whether or not English is your native tongue, there’s no shame in teaching yourself English grammar as an adult. A formal education may provide a foundation of knowledge, but it’s up to you to build it up.
In addition to the checklist below, here are a few resources I frequently use when revising my own writing as well as when I’m reviewing another author’s work:
- Google – Need a refresher on the definition of a word? Simply type “define: [enter the word]” into your Google search for the definition.
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves By Lynne Truss – Truss’ text is a must-have if you need to brush up and refine your punctuation.
- The Elements of Style By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White – For the odd rule and giving your writing style professional polish.
10-Step Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar Revision Checklist
- Spelling – Check for misspelled words.
- Misused Words – Review a running list of words you’re prone to misuse (even if they’re typos). For example: it’s vs. its, your vs. you’re, their vs. there, and a vs. an.
- Apostrophes – Look for all non-possessive plural nouns (ensure there’s no apostrophe) as well as review contractions or possessive nouns for apostrophe usage.
- Commas – Review for comma splices (a comma joining two independent clauses without the presence of a coordinating conjunction) as well as revise commas used in a series.
- Colons and Semicolons – Check colons for introducing long quotes, announcements, and introducing a series without expressions such as namely, that is, etc. Fix comma splices by joining independent clauses with a semicolon when stylistically correct.
- Dashes and Hyphens – Ensure dashes are not excessively used and they maintain a space on either side. Check whether your compound modifiers are using hyphens correctly (no space on either side).
- Other Punctuation – Review for excessive exclamation points and ellipses as well as period usage relative to quotation marks.
- Run-on Sentences – Find every occurrence of coordinating conjunctions – e.g., and, but, or, and yet – and revise any run-on sentences.
- Sentence Structure – Check for unclear syntax and unnecessary passive voice.
- Asides – Check parentheticals and adjust sentences to ensure they’re used only when absolutely necessary.
There you have it – my 10-step checklist. What do you include in your Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar Revision Checklist? What resources do you keep (and use!) in your writing space? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you.
Want more grammar insights? Browse the Grammar Tips category for posts on top misused words, spelling blunders, punctuation howlers, and much more!