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(Another installment on the college course I’m teaching this semester – Writing: The Editing Process.)

The class has moved past the comma splice section, although I refer to it each session to help embed it into the students’ memories, mostly because I still see a few frightened looks when I say the term “comma splice.” (Remember: if two complete sentences are joined by a conjunction – add the comma before the conjunction.)

What? A conjunction? Most people freeze up when asked, “Do you know what a conjunction is?” The pupils dilate, the pulse races and perspiration begins to bead in unwelcome places. Simply put, conjunctions are a group of seven connecting words. That’s it – seven little words that are no more than three letters each. Somehow just bringing up the word “conjunction” elicits fear in grown adults. What is a conjunction? Unless you’re an English major, proofreader or editor, no one talks about conjunctions beyond freshman high school English. However, you might be able to hum the “Conjunction Junction” tune from the Schoolhouse Rock series. But after you’ve sang, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?” that’s probably about where the memory ends and the song trails off into a “da da da dada, dada dada…” and then you think about that cute little Bill who went to Capitol Hill to become a law.

I don’t think anyone has ever actually said, “I want to forget everything I learned about good writing and become a poor writer.” But with everything else in our personal and work lives filling up our brain space, writing and editing skills aren’t high on the list of items to retain. With a few helpful hints you can easily improve your writing, so when you’re writing up that sales report or putting together an SOP, you can use conjunctions and edit them correctly.

Maybe it’s the length of the name that throws people off. Like the term abbreviation, conjunction is a long word to describe short words. One of the ways used to get students and writers to remember a conjunction is to call them FANBOYS. FANBOYS . . . what? I’m not talking about those extreme movie and comic book fans who dress up in character and parade around at premieres or COMIC-CON, but rather those seven little words that link ideas together. When talking about FANBOYS in grammar, I mean:

For
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet and
So.

See, the first letter of the conjunctions spell out FANBOYS. Clever memory trick, yes?

So when writing a report or SOP, if you write a sentence that has two complete independent clauses in it connected by FANBOYS, remember to put the comma before the conjunction. And then you may dress up like Obi-Wan Kenobi and head to San Diego where you might just hook up with Princess Leia.

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