Think of one skill that nearly every professional uses on a daily basis. The first thing that comes to my mind is writing. Once we enter the professional space, paying close attention to our grammar is something that can fall by the wayside as we focus on honing other skills. However, it is still imperative to use correct grammar because it’s a reflection of our professional credibility, attention to detail, and ability to learn.
A study, conducted by Grammarly.com in 2013, substantiates the importance of proper writing. The company analyzed 100 LinkedIn profiles of native English speakers in the consumer packaged goods industry (i.e., companies that sell food, beverages, cleaning products, etc.) and found some interesting insights. In short, individuals who made more mistakes than their peers failed to reach higher positions in a 10-year span. Those who made fewer mistakes received more promotions and changed jobs more frequently. Although it may seem as if a longer tenure is indicative of competency, this trend shows that job-hopping is more prevalent amongst those who are more grammatically competent than their counterparts.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some common mistakes that I have noticed in my professional career:
1. Using Coordinating Conjunctions
When using a coordinating conjunction (e.g., and, or, but, nor, so, for, yet) to join two independent clauses, a comma must be placed before the coordinating conjunction. Here is a rule I came up with to determine whether or not to use a comma: if both sentences before and after the coordinating conjunction can stand alone, use a comma. If either sentence before and after the coordinating conjunction can’t stand alone, don’t use a comma.
– Incorrect: I sent out two emails but she is still working on another task.
– Correct: I sent out two emails, but she is still working on another task.
– Incorrect: I sent out two emails, and am waiting for a response.
– Correct: I sent out two emails and am waiting for a response.
2. Using “However” as a Conjunctive Adverb
”However” can be used to join two simple sentences to make a compound sentence. In order to do so, the correct punctuation must be used. The incorrect use of punctuation is where I most commonly notice errors. The rule for using “however” to join two simple sentences is: use a semi-colon before “however” and a comma after.
– Incorrect: I would like to go to the game, however, I already made plans with somebody else.
– Incorrect: I would like to go to the game, however I already made plans with somebody else.
– Correct: I would like to go to the game; however, I already made plans with somebody else.
“However” is just one of many conjunctive adverbs. Other common ones are:
3. Using Quotation Marks with Commas and Periods
The rule regarding the placement of commas and periods with quotation marks depends on your geographical location. With American English, we always put commas and periods inside quotation marks, but, with British English, periods and commas can go inside or outside. The one exception for the American English rule is in the context of technical writing, such as HTML or other coding languages. Given that the general audience of this blog is based in the U.S., we will follow the American English rule.
– Incorrect: I always struggle with spelling the word “restaurant”.
– Correct: I always struggle with spelling the word “restaurant.”
– Incorrect: To start an HTML document, type “<!DOCTYPE html>.”
– Correct: To start an HTML document, type “<!DOCTYPE html>”.
If you ever find yourself questioning whether or not your writing is in line with grammar rules, there are many online resources at your disposal. The Grammar Girl offers clarification and advice on a broad range of grammar-related topics and adds her own personal touch. Also, many universities have writing centers with more cut-and-dry explanations for grammar rules. One resource that I use often is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).
Punctuation and grammar rules can be tedious things that seem more like a nuisance than a useful skillset. However, strong writing is one of the most basic ways to demonstrate competency and professionalism. Furthermore, it is extremely important to follow the rules of a skill that almost all of us use on a daily basis.