This post marks the beginning of a new series on this blog, Ask an Expert. Our first expert is Wendy van Leeuwen. She is a high school teacher and published author who is currently pursuing a Certificate in Technical and Business Writing. She also has the distinction of being my mother! I may be a bit biased, but I think her answers to my questions contain some great advice about how to become a better writer.
Why is it important for students to learn to use proper grammar and to proofread their copy?
In the same way that a plate of food is more appetizing when it is beautifully presented, your written communication will be more appealing and easier to digest for your reader if it is organized and presented clearly. Well-written, error-free copy demonstrates to an instructor, employer or potential client that you know how to pay attention to detail and can put together a high-quality professional product. Spell check and grammar check programs do not pick up every error and cannot be relied upon to do your proofreading for you.
What are the most common spelling and grammar mistakes that you see when editing student assignments?
Run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, and too many adjectives and other unnecessary words. Take the time to revise, checking each comma to see if it ought to be a period. Make sure that each sentence has a subject and verb and that they agree with each other. For example, in the sentence, “One of my friends are coming over tonight,” the subject is singular, one of my friends, so the verb should be is, not are.
Do you have any tips for design students who would like to become better at writing in general?
Say things in a straightforward manner. Choose strong nouns and active, exciting verbs. Clarity is always the most important thing. Students often throw a lot of fancy words into long passages of writing that have almost no content. Make sure you have something to say, then say it–concisely and clearly. Read your work aloud to yourself or someone else, paying attention to the rhythm of the sentences. Aim for variety in your sentence length and construction to keep it interesting. Give yourself enough time to complete the writing so that you can set it aside for a while and then revise with fresh eyes.
Where can students go to learn more about improving their writing skills? (e.g. books, websites)
Look in your bookstore or online for a good grammar resource book, such as Hacker and Sommers’ Rules for Writers, or Practical Grammar by Maxine Ruvinsky. There are plenty of online resources as well, such as quickanddirtytips.com, the Grammar Girl App, and online dictionaries such as merriam-webster.com.
A big thank you to Wendy for being our first guest! What type of expert should I interview next?
Till next time,