Grammar Matters

Working in professional communications, grammar is part of the job every day. Style guides and rules of grammar exist to ensure we deliver our messages to intended audiences with clarity, consistency and accuracy.

Taking the time to proofread your content is well worth it. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2014 State of the News Media, 19 percent of media said they are “completely likely” and 33 percent said they would be “very likely” to delete a pitch based on spelling or grammatical errors regardless of the content’s quality. Yikes!

Whether sending pitches to media or sharing ideas in a presentation, all communications professionals have a reason to brush up on grammar guidelines. We’ve prepared a few pointers to refresh your reviewing skills.

Associated Press (AP) Stylebook Basics

The AP Stylebook serves as the first reference for written communications in our industry, and every office should have at least one current copy. Here are a few basics:

  • When names and titles are used, lowercase the job title unless it directly precedes the name.
  • Academic titles establish credentials and require special treatment.
    • Ph.D. is used for doctorate degrees. Using Dr. as a courtesy title should be avoided because the public tends to think only of physicians.
    • No capitalization is needed to describe a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree. However, Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science uses capitalization but no possessive.
  • For numerical figures in copy, whole numbers should be spelled out if they are below 10 or when they are used in the beginning of the sentence. Additionally, numbers less than one should be spelled out, such as two-thirds or one-half.
  • What to do with bullet points? Use one space between a bullet and first letter of copy, which should be capitalized. Use a period at end of each bullet whether or not it is a complete sentence.

Recipe Guidelines

With clients in the food space, we often refer to the AP Stylebook’s specific food guidelines.

  • Title of the recipe is capitalized.
  • Spell out all measurements.
  • Always use figures with an exception for clarity, e.g., “two 8-ounce packages.”
  • Ingredients should be listed in the order they are used in the recipe.
  • Use lowercase for food ingredients unless it’s a brand name or trademark.
  • If ingredients are processed in some way, the description follows the ingredient. For example, “2 garlic cloves, finely chopped.”

Common Mistakes

  • Company names are considered a singular noun. “Its” should be used over “their.”
  • Data is a plural noun and takes plural verbs and pronouns.
  • When you need to determine which pronoun to use, use this trick:
    • Replace the pronoun with “we” or “us.” If the sentence is correct with “we,” the pronoun “he” or “she” is correct. If “us” is right, use “him” or “her.”

One final tip that always pays off is to ask a trusted colleague to review your work. When you pay extra attention to creating error-free work, it shows and will be rewarded as effective communication with your audience.