Perhaps you are looking to become a copywriter, or get your foot in the door with a digital marketing agency via content marketing. You will probably be asked to submit a writing sample—but grammar and spelling mistakes can be a deal breaker, or may negatively influence how you’re perceived as a job candidate. Here are three strategies, from a functional grammar perspective, to help improve your writing.
Writing is different than speaking: Step up your pattern awareness.
Not only do we speak in different types of registers (levels of formality) in real life, we also take shortcuts and mush words together in speech that we must write differently. The English language has also bestowed upon us various versions of words that sound the same, but are spelled and used differently. Unfortunately, many of these patterns must simply be memorized—though there are often conceptual bases for some. Here are a few to get you started:
- I have to take apart the hard drive. (Whole to pieces)
- I’m so glad to be a part of the team. (Piece to a whole)
- The weather affected my commute. (Impacted, a verb)
- The effect of the rain on my commute was significant. (Result, a thing)
- The rain effected change on my route. (RARE, to bring about change when it’s difficult to do)
- I plan to accept his offer for a ride home. (Say yes to or include)
- I will except you from the rule this time. (To exclude, used rarely)
Reading aloud: Commas can be your friend.
One of the most common mistakes I often see in writing is that commas are rarely used, or misused. We can make multi-phrase sentences more clear by adding commas where you would normally take a breath (this usually corresponds to the end of a clause and the start of a new one). Reading a sentence out loud (or in a whisper) to yourself can be insightful. If you find yourself at a comma and you aren’t taking a quick breath or pause, you probably don’t need it.
While commas are helpful to separate ideas, sometimes one thought has gone on for long enough, and it should end. Using a period instead of a comma is necessary to keep sentences from becoming run-ons, as well as setting apart important points. Make a point. It can be short. Then offer an explanation, which may have multiple reasons, and therefore several clauses. Just don’t go on too long!
Commas should also be used after introductory phrases like “Of course,” “However,” and “As we discussed,”. Commas are also usually necessary before transitions like “which” and “whether.”
Understand how the apostrophe works.
Apostrophes are used for two things: to show possession, and to show a contraction (where letters have been left out).
An apostrophe + s should never be used to show plurality. Here’s a quick check to figure out whether you need an apostrophe before that s: is the next word a person, place, or thing? Then you probably shouldn’t use that apostrophe, even if it looks funny (check your spelling to make sure you don’t need to add an ‘e’ before the –s).
Contractions are a different matter. They can be more difficult to understand, because many contractions involve the stative verb ‘be,’ which doesn’t always feel like a verb. The easiest way to tell whether you are using an apostrophe correctly is that if you say the version of “be” and ensure it makes sense.
- Make sure you change your password every 6 months.
- *Make sure you change you’re password every 6 months.
In the second example, we know the apostrophe is incorrect because it doesn’t make sense to say “Make sure you change you are password every 6 months.”
You can check out a few more common mistakes from Business Insider.
Of course, there are a number of additional grammatical rules that many claim are part and parcel to proper writing, but this is a good start. Making use of your word processor’s spell check or a writing assistant like Grammarly can help you catch things that you might miss in a hurry. Solicit another pair of eyes to proofread your application and cover letter. Writing is the same as any other life skill: practice makes perfect.