Grammar affects credibility in writing

  • May 18, 2021

We created a post back in 2014 titled “fun with commas” (https://www.ebhoward.com/fun-commas/) that included an amusing comment on grammar:

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While there are plenty of great jokes and memes out there surrounding grammar and punctuation, it really is no laughing matter. While it is true that everyone makes mistakes, it is critical to copy edit and spell and grammar check any writing you plan to disseminate. The unfortunate truth is that these kinds of errors in your writing could make reviewers, investors, and colleagues doubt your credibility. Mistakes will happen, but here are some tips for mitigating the risk of embarrassing spelling and grammatical errors.

Copy Edit

The final phase of any writing should be the copy edit. Copy editing is not a time to add more language, rearrange copy, or incorporate new ideas into the piece. Copy edit should focus on formatting, spelling, grammar, and clarity. Questions to ask during copy edit include does the information makes sense, is everything spelled and punctuated correctly, and are margins, spacing, paragraphs, and font size consistent. Despite the additional time it takes to copy edit, this step is very important in creating a polished finalized document.

Do not rely on spellcheck!

Don’t get us wrong, spellcheck is wonderful, but just because a word is spelled correctly does not mean it belongs in a sentence. Some of the major similar words people struggle with are: affect vs. effect, complimentary vs. complementary, insure vs. ensure, except vs. accept, there/they’re/their, are/our, and others. We are lucky to live in the 21st century where any answer is a quick search away so when in doubt, look it up! The other issue with properly spelled words that do not belong in a sentence is extra or deleted letters that change the meaning completely. At a recent SBIR webinar, the speaker informed us that many researchers seek to “assess their findings and data.” What they really mean is assess. Asses is a group of donkeys while assess is to evaluate. Spell check will not save you in this type of scenario, which is why a human copy editor is essential.


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