Tag Archives: Grammar

Self-Editing Tip #8: Letter Format

23 Jul

Business Letter Format—For this one, it’s easier to show and tell simultaneously. Below you’ll find a mock business letter with instructions in bold print.


Your Address (You don’t need your name here because it is in your closing) Press Enter/Return once

Your Address Cont.  Press Enter/Return twice


Date- Press Enter/Return twice


Contact Name- Press Enter/Return once

Contact Address- Press Enter/Return once

Contact Address Cont. – Press Enter/Return 4 times




Salutation: (“Dear Sir or Madam” is considered outdated and in many instances, “To whom it may concern,” is seen as too formal, sterile, or general. Whenever possible, use the Ms., Mr., Dr., or whatever other title the person may have and the full name of the contact in your salutation. “Dear Mr…” or “Dear Ms…” is ok. When gender cannot be ascertained by the name, use the name only. It is better to leave it off completely than to offend in error. Also, this name has to be the same name you addressed the letter to above your salutation. Make note of the colon, NOT A COMMA, after your salutation.)Press Enter/Return 2 times


Body of Letter (Single-spaced and left justified) Press Enter/Return 2 times


Second Paragraph if needed


Third Paragraph if needed and so on (Notice that these paragraphs have one space between each and are not indented at the beginning. In many types of letters, especially query letters, cover letters, and other correspondence where you’re asking for something, it’s nice to include something like “Thank you for your time and consideration,” at the end of your last paragraph, right before your salutation.) Press Enter/Return 4 times  




Closing, (A COMMA follows the closing when a colon follows the salutation. The salutation needs to fit purpose of letter in terms of formality, goal for your letter, status of your contact vs. your status. Some examples include: Sincerely, With gratitude, Graciously, Respectfully. When the closing is more than one word, only the first word is capitalized like, “With gratitude.”) Press Enter/Return 4 times




Name (4 spaces left between closing and typed name is for you to sign your name by hand when you print it before mailing. For electronic letters, the four spaces are only necessary if you have scanned in your by-hand signature for placement there.)Press Enter/Return 2 times


Enclosures (This is an optional and sometimes not-needed space in a business letter. If you are sending additional documents in the same envelope with this letter, like a resume or transcripts, you would write the word Enclosures one line below your typed name. If there are many enclosures, you may type the names of those documents under the word “Enclosures.” It helps to ensure that all necessary documents are noticed.)


This is the end of the mock business letter. For even more detail on business letters and formatting of many other documents, I highly recommend the Purdue OWL website.

Self-Editing Tip #6: Using Comments and Track Changes in Word

12 Jul

Comments and Track Changes in Word—Is your desktop, computer screen, writing notebook, and every other surface of your workspace cluttered with sticky notes or scraps of paper? While physical tokens of changes you need to make in your writing are continuous reminders to actually do what the papers say, they are useless in certain quantities—think the one-eyed, one-eared, giant, purple people-eater of post-its. They’ll eat your space, your ideas, and your sanity.

Enter: Comments and Track Changes in Microsoft Word. You may have come in contact with these tools while taking a course that involves writing multiple drafts of papers. Teachers and peer reviews often use Comments to say what they’re thinking about the text in the margins as they read. Track Changes allows the reader to edit as they go. All editing marks are shown on top of the original text so that the writer knows what was changed. None of the changes are permanent. When you get the file back from the peer or teacher, there are valuable comments and suggested edits for you to consider.

These tools aren’t just for editing someone else’s text. You can use it for self-editing, too. Consider trading in some of that post-it clutter for Comments and Track Changes in your writing process. This way, your notes and changes stay with their corresponding text, tucked neatly away inside your computer. If you write by hand, I’ve got another idea coming for you in the next tip.

To use Comments in Word 2010, go to the Review tab, highlight the section of text you wish to make a note about or place your cursor anywhere in the text where you want to comment, and click New Comment in the Comments section of the Review tab. Type your commentary in the bubble that appears on the right side of your page. To delete a comment, right click and select delete, or select delete in the Comments section on the Review tab.

To use Track Changes in Word 2010, go to the Review tab, select Track Changes in the Tracking section, and begin making your edits as usual. The changes you make will appear in red. In the Show Markup dropdown menu of the Tracking section, you can select which changes appear in red and which changes are not logged. In general, it is helpful to log all changes, but this will vary with your personal needs.

Self-Editing Tip #4: Em Dash

8 Jul

The Em Dash—The Em Dash is the “giant hyphen” of the punctuation world. Many don’t realize that the hyphen is not the proper way to add commentary/editorial information into sentences. The example below shows the common mistake of using a hyphen rather than an Em Dash for this aside-type statement.

Ex. What is most important- especially for those not accustomed to certain exercise equipment -is that enthusiasm is not replaced with recklessness.

The sentence above is not incorrect in terms of syntax, semantics, or cohesion. The only thing that needs fixing are those pesky little hyphens. To create an Em Dash, type the first phrase and two hyphens. Leave no space between the words and the hyphens and no space between the two hyphens. Type the commentary phrase without adding a space after the hyphens. At the end of the commentary phrase, type two more hyphens with no spaces just like the first set. Most word processing programs will automatically turn your two hyphens into Em dashes. If it does not, you can select an Em Dash by going to the Insert tab of Microsoft Word, selecting Symbol, More Symbols, and then Special Characters. You can also use the shortcut key phrase Alt+Ctrl+Num or set your own shortcut key. The sentence in its corrected form is below:

Ex. What is most important—especially for those not accustomed to certain exercise equipment—is that enthusiasm is not replaced with recklessness.

Self-Editing Tip #3: Redundancy, Reiteration, Repetition

5 Jul

Redundancy, Reiteration, and Repetition—there’s a critical difference between making sure your message is purposefully apparent in every facet of your work (reiteration) and restating that message verbatim at every opportunity until it gets in the reader’s way or insults their intelligence (redundancy).

Whether you write in a technical capacity like web content and print materials (think client-targeted brochures, newsletters, mailers, etc.) or creatively for pleasure, reiteration is important. You want your readers to know what you’re about. Keep like items or topics together to avoid redundant menu labeling, but feel free to creatively reiterate important info when necessary.

Consider this situation:

You are the writer for your company’s website. There are ten tabs on the site menu, each leading to different groups of information. All of that information still relates back to the same central theme, idea, product, whatever. As the writer, you nod toward that unifying topic on each page in some way. This is good. After all, what if page seven of ten is the only page a particular client visits? What if page four of ten is the one that shows up in a Google search? The customer may look at that page only when coming to your site. Prepare for the possibility and probability that any individual page on your site is the only page your reader sees. Are they going to know what your company is all about?

However, and I cannot stress this enough, copying your mission statement, slogan, company motto, sales pitch, etc. verbatim on each page is not the way to make sure that reader gets the message. Remember how I said you must consider that they may only see one out of ten pages? They might also see all ten. So if you’ve been redundant instead of informative, find a way to rephrase that enables you to stay true to your purpose without insulting your reader’s intelligence.

Another effective way to make sure your reader gets the whole message is to encourage your audience to take a look at the rest of your site (or any other publication). Give them an incentive, give them motivation, and give them something to look forward to. Every writer must decide for herself what those incentives, motivations, and exciting features will be. For some, it might be giveaways and contests. For others, it might simply be good-natured or humorous instruction to do so. Consider your niche and your audience when deciding. Not every method will work for every reader or writer. Also, give readers easy navigation to those additional pages; i.e. Back to Top buttons, Home Page link on every page, sentences with links to other pages written in.

Let’s diverge, now. Did you notice what I did up there? “Give them an incentive, give them motivation, and give them something to look forward to.” That’s neither redundancy, nor reiteration. That is repetition. In this instance, it is also an example of isocolon—the repetition of entire grammatical structures within a sentence. You can reuse entire grammatical structures consecutively in order to create emphasis on an idea. This is a great technique for all writing. If you take the time to say something more than once in the same sentence or paragraph, most readers will realize it is something important.

Just remember, these three concepts are not the same as summarizing. For long academic or technical documents in which a final culmination of ideas is necessary for reader understanding, restating the message in a condensed way is almost always an appropriate means of wrapping up.

For more tips on web content, technical writing, and editing for business documents, check out Mike Markel’s book Technical Communication 9th edition or newer.

Self-Editing Tip #2: Comma Splice

2 Jul

The Comma Splice—Basically stated, a comma splice is any instance where a comma is placed between two independent clauses without a conjunction to accompany it.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, it rained, we couldn’t go.

Imagine a period at the end of clause 1 in place of the comma. Does it work as a stand-alone sentence? Asking this question is usually a good way to test a clause to see if it is a complete sentence. Do the same with clause 2 and 3.

I’ve used a lengthy compound sentence in this example to show that sentences with comma splices are different than a list. The example above is not a list of events. Each clause functions as a complete sentence when separated from the comma and other portion of the sentence. This means there is a comma splice.

There are two options for fixing comma splices.

In order to leave the comma, a conjunction must be added.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, but it rained, and we couldn’t go.

In order to leave out the conjunctions, a semicolon must be added in place of the comma.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today; it rained; we couldn’t go.

Now, the example above is not the most conventional use of the semicolon. You generally find them in compound sentences with two clauses. However, there is no rule about using them as shown, especially if the goal is to set your writing apart stylistically.

For examples of (almost excessive, but effective) stylistic use of the semicolon and comma, check out Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Sunflower Sutra.” For more specific discussion about comma splices, semicolons, and other grammar concepts, I recommend Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray’s book Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (6th or 7th edition).

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