What are some strategies for improving my grammar and punctuation?

Why are grammar and punctuation important?

Punctuation and grammar are tools writers use to communicate their ideas clearly to readers. Using grammar and punctuation effectively allows your reader to focus on these complex ideas instead of puzzling over the meaning of each sentence or paragraph. You’ve put a lot of thought and effort into what you want to write, and grammar and punctuation allow you to express those ideas in a standardized communication that readers will recognize and understand.

When should I check my grammar and punctuation?

Typically, these are two concerns that should be checked towards the end of the writing process to polish your draft. In the earlier, drafting stage of your writing, if you want to focus more on getting your ideas organized and down on the page, if might not be as useful to concern yourself at that point with polishing each sentence. At the same time, if you are having trouble getting an idea to come out the way you want it to, you might want to look at how you are constructing and punctuating the sentence.

How can I work to improve my grammar and punctuation?

One of the easiest, most effective, and most enjoyable ways to improve your use of grammar and punctuation is to read. Every time you read, pay attention to grammar conventions. Where are these authors placing commas? Where are they using punctuation to separate sentences, phrases, or ideas? How are they formatting lists, quotations, or long sentences? Use the structures you see in your reading as models when you write. The more you read, the more you will be able to recognize and adopt effective uses of grammar and punctuation.

If you’re not sure about a use of punctuation or a grammatical conventions, there are several online sources you can consult. For example, the University Writing Center has a number of handouts that can help you, including Active Voice and “Be” Verbs, Active and Passive Voice, Articles, Modifiers, Prepositions, Semicolons, and how to use That, Which, and Who. There are also other online resources which have clear explanations and examples to follow, such as The OWL at Purdue and the Y University.

Finally, it helps to learn effective proofreading strategies. Reading your essay out loud can help you identify awkward constructions or places where you may need to revise your grammar. Reading your sentences in backwards order (i.e. reading the last sentence of your essay, then the one before that, and so on) can help you focus on each sentence individually to identify grammatical errors.

How can I remember or keep track of new structures or conventions I’ve learned?

Practice writing with the conventions and structures you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. For example, if you don’t know how to use a semi-colon, research this convention. Once you have learned how a semi-colon functions, challenge yourself to use three in your next writing assignment. The best way to remember grammatical structures you have learned is to actively use them in your writing.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

Although the consultants in the Writing Center are not editors, we can help you develop editing strategies and provide guided help with unfamiliar conventions. Our consultants can also help you practice writing with different grammar and punctuation conventions so that you can explore the techniques that work best for you and the particular piece you’re writing.  While it’s best to learn these structures with something you have written, we can also help with general grammar or punctuation concerns. We also offer a variety of handouts that cover common grammar and punctuation conventions.