How to write good: Knowing you have a problem is the first step

Knowing your limitations as a writer is important.

For instance, if you don’t know how to spell.

It used to be that the non-spellers in the world could get through a day without being revealed. In 2016, that’s not the case.

Texting, email, social media and YouTube comment sections have conspired to make writers of us all, with our work put before dozens or thousands of people at a time. Coincidentally, however, there also seems to have been a lack of shame about our inability to spell.

My first concern is with a public education system that never quite managed to teach us the difference between there, their and they’re.

The second concern is why those who can’t spell haven’t learned to use spell-checkers. They are everywhere; built into every word-processing program. But more than that, they are built into nearly every social-media app that exists.

Start typing, make a mistake and you are immediatley alerted.

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Facebook wants you to get it right. Ditto Twitter and Instagram and all the others.

If you can’t spell, trust that your app is smarter than you.

And remember that “you’re” is a contraction of “you are” and “your” means belonging to the person you are writing about.

How to write good: Never overlook the power of proofreading

As we gear up this Monday for an onslaught of social media commentary, take a moment to consider the written word.

Simple misspellings, grammatical missteps and improper word usage can muddy the waters of online debate.

Putting aside for a moment the rampant befuddlement over “your” and “you’re,” most problems can be avoided simply by taking a moment to read what’s been written before posting.

And while autocorrect has created many hilarious, but unintentional, text messages, more often than not, it can save you from an unnecessary blunder.

Count to 10, reread your post, then hit SEND.


How to write good: Avoid redundant phrases

Redundancy in your writing slows the reader down.

Just like you don’t want to cash in all your 50-cent words when you’re writing, you also don’t want to overwrite. That means keeping your prose clean and efficient.

One way to do that is to be on the lookout for redundant, or unnecessary, phrasing.

Such as “pre-register” or “advance registration.” When else are you going to register?

Spot the redundancy in this sentence:

The lottery prize was claimed earlier this week.

Of course, “earlier this week” is unnecessary. If you saying that something already happened this week, obviously it was “earlier.”

It also works the other way around:

The tornado is expected to hit Kansas later this week.

By the context of the sentence, we know we’re talking about something we are expecting to happen, so “later” is unnecessary.

(Even better is to be specific: The tornado is expected to hit Kansas on Tuesday.)

When composing, treat the first version as a draft. Go back through your writing and look for these hidden redundancies.

Find them and cut them out and you’ll have much tighter writing that’s easier to read.

How to write good: Lie versus Lay

Here’s a fun game while you’re watching television . . .

Count the number of times the actor, newsreader or commentator gets this one wrong. You’ll be amazed.

Make it like grammar bingo; first one to 10 wins.

But first, you have to know the rules. There are lots of ways to talk about subjects and objects and verbs and lots of “grammarly” things that may just confuse the issue.

Here’s a simple rule to follow:

If you can replace the word with put or place, use lay.

If you can’t, use lie.

For instance: I’m going to lay the book on the table.

You could alternatively write: I’m going to put the book on the table.

So you know lay is right.

Try this one: I am going to lie in the hammock all afternoon.

This time, you cannot replace lie with put or place, so you know it’s right.

Follow this simple rule and you’ll be right more often than not.