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A Word, Please:

Simple ways to improve writing

August 19, 2009|By June Casagrande

At last count, 9.4% of America’s workers were out of work. That means that, in recent months, at least 9.3% of America’s workers have encountered the phrase, “Excellent verbal and written communications skills required.”

For people who had access to enough caffeine before high-school English class, that’s not a problem.

But for others, this is bad news. You can’t go back to high school any more than you can call your old English teacher and say, “Hey, you know all that stuff you were talking about in 1988? Um, can you repeat that?”

Many figure those cushy jobs open only to skilled communicators are forever out of reach. Luckily, that’s just not true. All the resources you need are within easy reach. You just need a little determination and a little guidance. Here are your six top priorities.


?Subject-verb agreement. Verbs, which express action or states of being, change form a little depending on the subject of the sentence.

This is not difficult. You demonstrate a basic knowledge of this concept every time you choose “I go” instead of “I goes.” In English, present-tense verbs take the same form for every subject except third-person singular subjects. “He,” “she,” “it,” “John,” “the bicycle,” “happiness,” “our CEO” — these are all third-person singular. But this simple stuff can get tricky when your subject is complicated: “One of these five men is (not ‘are’) an imposter” because the subject is the singular “one” and not plural “men.” Want to know more? Just Google “subject-verb agreement” and you can master this stuff before dinner time.

?Apostrophes. The finer points of punctuation are hard, but the basics are easy. Assuming you know what a period and comma are, your No. 1 punctuation priority is the apostrophe. This little mark is all too eager to announce to the world that you don’t know the difference between a plural, a possessive and a contraction. “Excellent” communicators know that “it’s” is never possessive. So Google those terms and spend some time reading up on them.

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