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This semester I am teaching a college course – Writing: The Editing Process – and my students are learning the foundation to be effective writers. We’re covering grammar and editing while the coursework focuses on non-fiction assignments: profiles, TV reviews, business letters and how-to manuals. Proper grammar is a critically important tool for success in school, work and life, and today’s class was all about the grammar.

I think I heard a groan as we started our discussion on the comma splice. This concept seemed far more painful to grasp than correcting run-on sentences and using subordinators. To avoid a comma splice, do you recall a comma goes before the conjunction when two complete clauses are joined but not between a complete sentence and a fragment? Or do you remember calling conjunctions FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet and So)?

Yawn. I am no exception – these rules can and are boring to learn and practice but they’re vitally important – along with understanding parts of speech and punctuation – to become a good writer.

We are judged, sometimes quite severely, by the words we use and the way we use them in both our speaking and writing. Misused grammar betrays us. The way we talk and write reflects our background, education and ability to communicate. Often the first impression someone may have of you is because of your writing: if your cover letter and resume sport several typos or inconsistent punctuation, an HR rep or hiring manager might deduce you have a lack of attention to detail and pass you over for a job.

Throughout my career, I’ve had to be effective and flexible in my non-fiction writing to present material that is accurate, clear and concise to a variety of audiences. I’ve never been perfect and struggle with remembering all the rules, so I keep my “Elements of Style” book nearby as a resource. As my class learns and practices good grammar, it’s a reminder of how important the basics are in order to be successful in your writing.