Building a Solid Foundation

Writers and editors instinctively know what’s wrong with a sentence as soon as they see the error, sticking out like a sore thumb from an otherwise calm sea of words. We move with lighting-speed toward it–red cape flapping behind is optional–with pencil in hand, ready to repair the damage…but, let’s stop for a minute. Try to name the particular part of the sentence, or name the rule that applies in this instance. Not so easy, is it?

I feel like editing and writing are visceral experiences, which come from the depths inside. In reality, editing and writing are practical sciences that have rules, terminology, and guidelines that must be followed. These three elements help people communicate consistently. Imagine if we all used different rules to structure sentences…just how long would it take to decipher what we’re trying to say to each other?

As a writer, a reader, and an editor at a professional association, I enjoy working on a variety of written materials. One day I’ll work on cleaning up a short article, the next I’ll dive into a longer, academic-written publication that will end up being published in soft cover for a practitioner audience. These projects vary in size, complexity, audience, tone, and content. This type of diverse work is a blessing, sometimes in disguise, because it keeps me (and my skills) on my toes, fluent and adaptable.

More complex pieces stretch my imagination–and skill set. How to help the author communicate a convoluted model to the laymen in the audience? If a sentence causes me to tune out or become bored as I’m reading it, I know I need to revise it so it’s more appealing and communicative to the audience.

I can recall doing well in grammar classes in school, but then had a tendency to forget the “fancy” terminology and rules as soon as I stepped away at the end of the semester. While reading, I can immediately spot what’s wrong with a sentence or paragraph, but I’ll be darned if I can remember what the difference is between a compound predicate and a compound sentence.*

I’m always eager to shore up my skills and knowledge. Lately, a self-perceived lack of precision when calling out errors and not being able to immediately prove my point have become hot buttons. I’ve looked for some resources to help me take care of this little issue.

I’ve discovered a new favorite website called (completely trust-worthy name, don’t you think?). It has helped me refresh my memory about each part of a sentence, terminology, grammar rules, and definitions by reading about them and seeing easily understandable examples. The quizzes follow-up on what I read and test my retention of the information later. This is a great little resource. It’s helping me shore up what I’ve felt is a personal/professional weak point.

So this discovery and internal dialogue got me to thinking. I wonder out loud: how does a writer stay updated without losing sight of what s/he’s learned thus far? It’s not as if we had to explain predicates, prepositions, and conjunctions to other people on a daily basis–that which we don’t practice tends to be forgotten.

We’re meant to intrinsically know how to fix grammar and typos, or write our work perfectly each and every time, right? Well, not really. The ability to correctly use nomenclature and refer to exact grammar rules is incredibly valuable for writers and editors. It adds credibility and justification to our work.

Although we may cringe initially, as nomenclature and rules have been infamous tools of harassment in the arsenal of grammar snobs and guideline nazis for years, they’re invaluable to equip the run-of-the-mill writer and editor.

It’s like a little internal vision test, so we don’t lose our sight when it comes to grammar nomenclature and its rules. After all, everyone knows it’s important to learn how to walk before we can run or fly. There’s few sights as beautiful as a writer taking flight on the page.

*A compound predicate makes two or more statements about the subject of a sentence.  A compound sentence is formed by two independent clauses joined together by a conjunction and a comma.


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