Improve Everything You Write With These Eight Tips

Today marks Trilix crackerjack Content Editor Courtney Kimsey’s third anniversary with the agency. Though the time has passed quickly, we can hardly imagine just how much copy has passed through Courtney’s capable hands and trusting editing pen as she has searched for ways to improve every piece she touched.

In honor of Courtney’s special milestone, we’re sharing some of her simple but surefire tips and reminders to improve everything you write:

Mind Your Apostrophes
Apostrophes can trip you up if you aren’t paying attention. Check every apostrophe to be certain you mean to show possession or a contraction. Apostrophes are not used to make words plural. A common mistake is to use an apostrophe when signing your family’s name on the annual Christmas cards.

Example: “I’m Peggy’s daughter” is possessive. The 1990s, ATMs, cats, The Joneses, The Smiths are plural.

I vs. Me
Remember that pesky rule to say “Sally and I” instead of “Sally and me”? Well, it’s not necessarily correct. “Remember to let Sally and I know when to be there” is wrong. Drop the words “Sally and” to see what you have left. Would you say, “Remember to let I know when to be there?” No. It should read, “Remember to let Sally and me know when to be there” or “Sally and I were there.”

Use Only One Space after a Period
This is a hard habit to break if you learned to type many years ago. However, the universally accepted rule now is to use just one space after a period. Trust us. Every major style guide prescribes one space. Two spaces no longer enhance readability, which was needed only when we used manual typewriters.

Inside or Outside Quotation Marks?
In American English, periods and commas belong inside quotation marks. Semicolons, dashes and colons go on the outside. Question marks and exclamation points go inside the quotation marks when they are part of your quotation; when they aren’t a part of the quotation, they go outside.

Example: Mary asked, “Do you like ketchup on your eggs?” “I like ketchup on my eggs!” Have you seen Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “Rear Window”? I can’t believe what happened at the end of “Rear Window”!

Colons and Semicolons
Use colons before a list of items or an explanation that is preceded by a clause that can stand by itself. Use semicolons to separate related independent clauses or to distinguish items in a large list.

Do You Mean There, Their or They’re?
“They’re” is a contraction of they are. “Their” shows possession like my, your, his, her, its and our. “There” refers to a physical or abstract place.

Example: “They’re eating apples picked from their apple tree that’s over there.”

Don’t get caught in the same trap with “your” and “you’re.” “Your” is a possessive adjective. “You’re” is a contraction of you and are.

Example: “Your intelligence impresses me.” “You’re so intelligent!”

Be Concise
Avoid nominalizations, verbs that have been turned into nouns, to make your writing more concise and readable.

Example: “We will solve the problem” is easier to read than, “We will think of a solution for the problem.”

Hypens, En Dash and Em Dash
A hyphen connects words that function together as a single concept or form an adjective, such as “one-third,” “self-absorbed person” or “Des Moines-based company.” An en dash connects things that are related by distance: September–January, pages 4–29. An em dash is used to convey an additional thought — similar to parentheses — in a sentence, as a substitute for something missing or to itemize lists.

Happy writing to you and happy anniversary to Courtney!

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