Writing Tips

I had seen online that a media grammar course was required for one of my intended majors. Having completed numerous writing-intensive courses at SCTCC* with great success,  I felt over-qualified for this single credit prerequisite. Flippant, I enrolled in the class and completed the pre-exam assuredly. When the answer key was offered after the assessment, my answers proved how unfamiliar I was with AP style.  The first graded test proved challenging as well; the class average was less than 70 percent.

After the first graded test, I sought out a tutor and reread large portions of the textbook.  Eventually, I earned an A+ in the class, but it was much more challenging than I anticipated. Grammar can be an insidious task of the writer.

Stephen King has said that he writes with no regard for proper grammar. Rather, King writes his ideas as they come and returns at a later time to fuss with his grammar. Although Stephen King is a celebrated authority in his industry, professional media writers are expected to be proficient in AP style and understanding the basics makes writing more consistent for both writer and reader. I still catch myself breaking some of the rules, but the AP Stylebook has, in many ways, made writing easier for me. The following are a few helpful tips to consider before drafting your next Ulysses.

Use the nominative case when the pronoun is the subject, predicate nominative, or noun of direct address. Nominative case pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, one, who.

Use objective case when the pronoun is the direct object, the indirect object, the object of a preposition/participle/gerund/infinitive, or the subject of an infinitive. Objective case pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, one, whom.

Use possessive case, as the term implies, to show possession or attribution. Possessive pronouns are my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, our/ours, their/theirs, one’s, whose. Remember, only pronouns that end with one or body add ‘s to show possession. For example,  nobody’s fool or anyone’s guess.

Use the possessive case when the pronoun is followed by a gerund. For example, I appreciate his contributing.

Transitive verbs have a direct object. You set or lay a book down, and you raise a trophy in the air.

Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object. You sit or lie down, and you rise from your chair.

Use that for essential items (also called restrictive). For example, “The dog that was bitten by a bat became rabid.”

Use which for nonessential items (also called nonrestrictive). For example, “The dog, which was bitten by a bat, became rabid.)

When and connects two or more items in a subject, then the verb becomes plural. For example, “Mary and Bob have a dog.” This is true unless the connected words refer to a single thing, like “pork and beans.”

When or connects two or more items in a subject, then the verb is singular. For example, “Mary or Bob has a dog.” This is true unless one of the items is plural, such as “Mary or the neighbors have a dog.”

Nonessential items do not influence whether the verb is singular or plural. For example, “Mary, as well as her children, enjoys swimming.”

Collective nouns, such as army, faculty, or department, require a singular verb most of the time. A plural verb is only used when the collective noun comprises individuals operating independently or when members of the group are in a disagreement.

Both, few, many, others, and several are plural.

Another, anybody, anyone, anything, each one, either, everybody, everyone, everything, little, many a, more than one, much, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, other, somebody, someone, and something are singular.

All, any, each, more, most, none, plenty, some, and such are singular or plural according to context.

Do not use they, their, or theirs for single antecedents. To be gender neutral, either make the antecedent plural to enable using “they/their/theirs” or use a phrase like “his or her.”

For “neither. . . nor” phrases, the pronoun should correspond with the noun or pronoun that follows nor. For example, “Neither Mary nor Bob pulled his weight.”

The word following a colon should be capitalized if it is part of a complete sentence. If not, the word following a colon should be lowercase. For example, “She said one thing: Leave me alone.”

Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. Colons and semicolons always go outside quotation marks. Exclamation marks and question marks go inside quotation marks if they are part of the quoted material.

And, finally, the following are often-confused phrases used in the correct way:

Different from (not different than)

Convinced that (or) of

Persuaded to

Centers on

Revolves around

Supposed to / Used to

These guidelines were collected from the eighth edition of “Working With Words” (Brooks et al.), which I would strongly recommend. (Note: This post comprised my own examples and unique re-wording.) Luckily, however, help is readily available online as well.

*St. Cloud Technical & Community College

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