Great Grammar in 7 Steps
As Author Elmore Leonard said, “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose” (equivalent to a book and a half). In the age of email, some writers have gone mad for exclamation points. You’ve probably seen one-page email messages in which the writer ended every sentence with an exclamation point. Limit yourself to no more than one (if justified) exclamation point per email (or any other type of document, for that matter). Use the exclamation point only to communicate intentional impact, excitement, or alarm. An appropriate use of the exclamation point, for example, would be, “Yikes! I don’t want anyone slapped with that type of punishment.”
1 - Stop using exclamation points.
For example, “Do not rely on social media as your sole source of information.” Also correct: “Do not rely on social media as your sole source of information,” warned the manager. This is a firm rule of grammar. Periods and commas always—100 percent of the time—go inside the closing quotation mark. Incorrectly placing periods and commas outside the closing quote mark is one of the most common grammar errors. Even Jeopardy,” the television show that celebrates smarts, incorrectly places periods and commas outside closing quotation marks. Semicolons and colons, on the other hand, always go outside the closing quotation mark. Again, no exceptions.
2 - Always place periods and commas inside the closing quotation mark. No exceptions.
Use gender-neutral alternatives to “he,” “she,” “he/she,” and “he or she” to support respectful interactions with gender-nonbinary colleagues, consumers, and community members. You can, for example, replace “he” or “she” with “one.” You can rewrite, casting your sentence in the plural, using “they.” You can eliminate the offending pronoun altogether. You also can replace the offending pronoun with a noun.
3 - Demonstrate diversity and inclusiveness by using gender-neutral pronouns.
Nancy Flynn's webinar includes a whitepaper for more information on using pronouns for diversity and inclusion.
Do not capitalize job titles that follow names, merely describe jobs, or are used in place of people’s names. You would capitalize “Training Manager Bridget Rowe.” You would not capitalize “Chloe Murphy, training manager.” Nor would you capitalize “The president invited all the senior vice presidents.” You would, however, capitalize “The CFO questioned the VPs about their budgets.” To avoid hurt feelings, always place job titles in front of names. That way, you can legitimately capitalize everyone’s title.
4 - Capitalize job titles only if they precede (come before) individuals’ names or are abbreviations (CEO, VP, SVP).
Do you know the difference between “fewer” and “less”? If not, you have plenty of company. Writers often use “less” when they really mean “fewer.” Here’s the rule: Use “fewer” when referring to several countable people, animals, or items. Use “less” to refer to a single bulk amount. Example: “The training manager anticipates fewer employees [countable number of people] will apply for the job because the company has less money [single bulk amount] to work with this quarter.”
5 - You will (not “shall”) use “less” fewer times a day.
As for “will” vs. “shall,” here’s the guideline. Keep your business writing conversational by using “will” rather than the more pretentious “shall.”
Use possessives (insert an apostrophe) to indicate ownership (or possession). Use the plural to indicate multiples. Correct use of the plural: “Born in the 1970s.” Incorrect use of the possessive: “Born in the 1970’s.” Correct use of the plural: “Adhere to the dos and don’ts of grammar.” In that case, “dos” is plural and therefore takes no apostrophe. “Don’ts” is a contraction, meaning “do not” (plural) and requires an apostrophe.
6 - Don’t confuse possessives and plurals.
Go ahead and start your sentence with a coordinating conjunction (“and,” “or,” “nor,” “for,” “but,” “so,” “yet”). The rules of grammar have changed over the years. Once considered bad form, grammarians today agree there is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with “and” or another coordinating conjunction. Doing so helps create a smooth transition from one thought or sentence to another. Caveat: If your immediate supervisor or the big boss frowns on sentences that begin with “and,” find another way to express yourself. Don’t jeopardize your professional standing over a word.
7 - And another thing.
Whether you are composing formal business documents, emails, or social media posts, the goal is to write with as much power, precision, and persuasion as possible. Effective business writing is key to career advancement and organizational success. In the quest to command readers’ attention, documents that communicate clearly and convey competence always come out on top.
Business Writing Boot Camp
Business Writing Boot Camp, Including Critique of Your Own Writing Sample is an investment in your career and your financial institution’s assets, reputation, and future. You will also receive Nancy's whitepaper, Use Pronouns to Support Diversity & Inclusion, and fact sheet, Sales Writing Simplified.
Within two weeks after viewing the webinar, each participant may submit one brief writing sample to writing coach Nancy Flynn for professional review, critique, and comments. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to receive individual guidance from a leading writing instructor!
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