Better Letters: Grammar Girl Shows You How

Posted by The Editors on June 16, 2011
Better Letters: Grammar Girl Shows You How

"Business types spend way too much time-and words-trying to sound smart and important in their correspondence," says Mignon Fogarty, the host of "Grammar Girl's Down and Dirty Tips for Better Writing," a weekly podcast that has grown a cult following. "Fluffing up your writing buries your message and makes you sound, well, like you're trying too hard to impress."

According to Fogarty, such overused phrases as "in order that," "given the fact that," and "at the end of the day" are better off left on the cutting room floor. "When you trim beside-the-point verbiage, the sentence becomes clearer and more concise," she says. "Simpler is better."

As is using the right word. "Buzzwords have increased geometrically-and grammar has gone out the window," says Fogarty. She notes four common mistakes in executive letters, emails, and presentations:

Affect vs. effect. Affect is almost always a verb ("Poor sales will affect the bottom line") and effect is almost always a noun ("The effect of the layoffs is that everyone will have to work harder").

You're vs. your; it's vs. its. You're is a contraction for "you are" ("You're the best person for the job"). Your is a possessive pronoun ("Your resumé is lousy.") The same rule applies to it's (it is) and its. "Spellcheck won't necessarily highlight this, so when in doubt, look it up," says Fogarty.

i.e. vs. e.g. These two are substituted for each other all the time, especially in lists on resumés: i.e. means "in other words" and e.g. means "for example." You would be correct to write, "I managed teams (e.g. the student basketball pep club)."

Hone vs. home in. Everyone screws up this one. Hone means to "sharpen or make more effective" ("He honed his sales pitch before meeting with the client"); home means "to direct attention to an objective" ("She was homing in on the reasons why the company did poorly last quarter"). So to review: Home in on these rules to help hone your writing skills.

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