It was only a matter of time really before you learned the dirty truth about me. I’m a pedant when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation – you know, all those really ‘sexy’ elements of writing.
I hold the (at times unpopular) opinion that every writer should be exacting about these elements– they are, after all, the building blocks of our chosen profession. Admittedly, I am also the progeny of an English teacher who is of the firm belief that there is no excuse for bad grammar.
Of course, some might say that the education system is one of the reasons some of us shy away from ‘overly-proper’ English. Like Peig Sayers and the rivers of French Guyana, grammar was so beaten into us in our school days (figuratively speaking, of course) that we couldn’t help but rebel against it. And given such minor importance in later years, compared to, say, getting a job and scoring, grammar can’t be blamed for being somewhat overlooked.
But right now, we’ve decided to be writers and we owe to our readers and to ourselves to get the nuts and bolts of this job spot on.
The other problem with spelling and grammar is that, like when faced with learning a foreign language, we baulk at the enormity of it all. So I’m delighted to be able to report that it isn’t all scary and that there’s plenty of help out there without having to resort to taking a night class in English Language Pedantry or picking up the phone to our ETMs (English-Teacher-Mothers).
The first stop has to be the Oxford Dictionary. Around in some form or other since the 1850s, it is the trusted source when it comes to the English language. In addition to their trusty dictionary, of which there are dozens of versions, OxfordDictionaries.com is an extensive and comprehensive website, taking in all the elements that make up the language. It provides invaluable advice on grammar, including how to know your sentence from your clause and how to recognise a dangling participle when you see one.
Complementing its Writers’ Room and the extensive services and guidance offered to writers, the BBC also gives us a myriad of advice on its Skillwise website. Skillwise recognises the need for adults to educate themselves in English and Maths and, although the style of the website looks somewhat remedial, the content is as helpful as it is concise.
Taking a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject, Mignon Forgarty’s quickanddirtytips.com is a funny and, fast-paced but equally content-heavy website, offering us amusing facts about the English language (paradoxical but true), short and friendly tips to improve our writing and memory tricks to help us remember all those pesky grammar rules.
If the idea of memorising a whole bunch of rules continues to scare (or bore) you to death, maybe consider sending your manuscript to an automatic editing service, such as the AutoCrit Wizard. Apart from limited introductory offers, these are usually paid-for services but do give us comprehensive feedback on our writing. Not just spelling and grammar, but also cliché and redundancy, word- and phrase-overuse, dialogue quality and readability. I wouldn’t recommend making this the final port-of-call before sending your novel out into the big-bad-world (more on that subject here) but it could prove a useful editing tool during the writing/self-editing/rewriting process.
We’ve all, at some point, been let down by our brains when trying to come up with an alternative word to that one we’ve already used three times. And the thesaurus in our word-processing software can’t exactly be relied on. Thankfully, we have thesaurus.com (part of the dictionary.com family) to make us feel like the practiced wordsmith we’d like everyone to think we are. It also tells us what words are popular (who wouldn’t want to know that?) and offers useful writing guides such as how to write a thesis.
There’s also a thesaurus.com app for most smart-phones and tablets so we can sound clever on-the-go.
And if you are looking for a compact one stop guide to grammar, check out the bestselling Gwynne’s Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English – Penguin author Mary Grehan spoke to Mr. Gwynne for writing.ie, read her interview here.
The Trusted Source.
OxfordDictionaries.com offers invaluable guidance on spelling, grammar and the English language.
“Lots of advice on good writing, helping you to avoid making some of the most common mistakes of usage.”
Back To The Beeb.
BBC Skillwise, designed to offer literacy skills for adults, is a comprehensive resource that can be invaluable to writers, helping us improve our command of spelling and grammar.
“Think about your audience when choosing the right format and style for your writing.”
It Can Be Fun Too.
Mignon Forgarty’s funny and fast-paced English-language website.
“Your friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language.”
Let The Wizard Do The Walking.
Editing wizards like AutoCrit can definitely help us with spelling and grammar.
“With the click of a button it shows you the problems in your manuscript.”
What’s Another Word For…
Never be without a thesaurus with this website and app.
“Thesaurus.com provides resources that create success for consumers in their schoolwork, careers, relationships, and life.”