I spend a lot of time (ok – I’ll admit it – too much time!) on Quora. I’m glad to share my knowledge with people who are working on their English skills. But there’s one thing I wish everybody would stop asking about: grammar.
There are so many things that can go wrong with a sentence that have nothing to do with grammar: punctuation, word choice, and capital letters, for starters. (They fall into the usage category.)
And what about sounding natural? Writing powerfully? And – a big one – how about adopting some of the writing practices that professionals use?
So today I’m offering a few pointers about writing habits you need to break if you want to be a professional writer.
1. Don’t use quotation marks to apologize for a word or expression. In his book The Sense of Style, Stephen Pinker says that “Classic style is confident about its own voice.” Amen.
If a word doesn’t sound right to you, take a moment to find the exact word you want. And if you’re using a word in an unusual way, just do it! No apologies.
Jenny had a tantrum this morning because she couldn’t find her “binky.” AMATEURISH
Jenny had a tantrum this morning because she couldn’t find her binky. BETTER
2. Don’t underline unless you’re writing by hand or using a typewriter – or formatting a manuscript for a publisher who expressly asks for underlining.
If you want to emphasize a word, you can use color, a different typeface, a larger size, or a formatting option like bold or italics.
3. Never put a comma after but or and.
4. Never use the words importantly or firstly. Important and first are better choices.
5. Never write last but not least. Build to a climax: “Best of all….” “Most important….”
6. Never join sentences with a comma and however, therefore, nevertheless, moreover, or a similar word. Use a period or a semicolon.