English is a beautiful but complex language. Because it borrows words from pretty much every other language on the planet, it has a massive vocabulary. Syntax can be intricate. Word formation is often illogical; for example, flammable and inflammable both mean “easy to burn.”
Rules for punctuation are almost inscrutable. The Chicago Manual of Style’s section on commas is 14 pages long. For a seminar handout, I condensed the bare minimum most writers need to know about commas, and it’s still almost a whole page. This kind of thing makes writers crazy and keeps copyeditors in business.
Because honestly, if you have to make a choice between creating great messages and learning how to use commas, focus on your message and outsource the commas to a copyeditor or proofreader. That’s what we’re here for. We read those 14 pages so you don’t have to.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. Every writer should try to learn the basics. But you needn’t run out and spend $65 on a copy of CMOS, either. It’s in the reference section of your local library. Spend an afternoon there reading chapter two, which is about manuscript preparation. Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you might also benefit from reading these chapters:
Chapter 5. Grammar and Usage
Chapter 6. Punctuation
Chapter 7. Spelling
Everything else in the book is pretty specialized, intended for the academic market. Browse through the book to get a feel for what’s there, so you know where to look later if you have a question. Or you could just e-mail me. I’ve got a copy of CMOS right here, and I’m happy to look stuff up for you. I only reserve the right to use the question and answer in a future post.
What if you’re not a writer, but have to write anyway?
Many people have to write as part of their jobs, even though their primary training is in other areas. They’re human resources directors, salespeople, or secretaries, but they’ve been asked to write manuals, website copy, or press releases. Small business owners are often told to write blogs or books to promote their businesses, but they have no idea how to do so.
These folks have even less need for a copy of CMOS on their desks, and even more need for a partner to whom they can delegate the writing or editing. I find that most businesspeople have a high degree of writing competency. They couldn’t get as far as they have without it. But there’s a difference between writing competently and being a writer. A good copyeditor can make the difference between passable text and great writing.
English is beautiful and complex. While others have been mastering human resources, sales, and administration, I’ve spent my adult life — and much of my childhood, now that I think about it — mastering English. I’m here to put that knowledge to work for you.