Judy Nollet
White Plume Communications

writer, instructional designer, eLearning developer

Good Writing Always In Style

When discussing writing for interactive media, I always say, "Proper spelling and grammar are still important—despite all evidence to the contrary on the Web." And everyone chuckles knowingly. You don't have to be an ex-English major (I'm not) to notice that writing rules often get lost in cyberspace.

However, if you want to communicate effectively, you should be concerned with proper writing. That doesn't mean all your text must be rigidly formal. But it should be spelled correctly and follow standard grammar rules.

So you say you slept through English class? Don't worry. You're still not doomed to a life of ghastly grammar, poor punctuation, and confusing communications. I suggest you buy Woe Is I, by Patricia T. O'Conner (ISBN 0-399-14196-0). Described on the cover as "the grammarphobe's guide to better English," this book is actually fun. Well, if not fun, at least mildly amusing. Not to mention simple to understand and easy to use.

Pesky Punctuation

Even though punctuation marks take up very little space, they are vital to good writing. As O'Conner points out, "When you write, punctuation marks are the road signs (stop, go, yield, slow, detour) that guide the reader." Unfortunately, misuse of these signs can lead to awful accidents of communication.

The most common mistakes I notice occur when punctuation marks are next to each other. So for those who stayed awake through this article, below are some simple rules for avoiding grammatical embarrassments. (Note: These apply to American English. British English follows slightly different rules.)

Rule Example
." Periods come before closing quotation marks. Everyone wants to produce movies as popular as "Star Wars."
," Commas come before closing quotation marks. "Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all," said John F. Kennedy.
?" A question mark comes before the closing quotation mark when the title or quote is a question. No period is used.

This is true even when the entire sentence is a question.
They made science fun in "What's the Secret?"

Did you ever see the science series called "What's the Secret?"
"? A question mark comes after the closing quotation mark when the title or quote is not a question, but the entire sentence is. What Shakespearean play includes "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"?
"; Semicolons come after the closing quotation mark. The book club is reading "Pride and Prejudice"; they want to compare the original text with the movies.
": Colons come after the closing quotation mark. There are two kinds of "grammarphobes": those who overcome their fear in order to write better, and those who don't.

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