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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Reviewing the Building Blocks of Writing

Some of my favorite building blocks for reviewing building
blocks: Style, the guide to punctuation, The Chicago Manual
of Style
, Words into Type, and Garner's Modern American Usage
Among the other crazy things I’m planning for this June, I am taking a class on emerging technologies. I'm learning some basic coding--a heavy dose of HTML and a dollop of CSS. While I am starting to "get" looking at basic HTML coding and noting where a bracket or two is missing, I haven't quite learned the language fluently. But I’m able to recognize if there might be a missing piece.

At the same time, I'm designing a self-editing class and looking at elements I want to include in the course. Based on my HTML course, I think I’ve determined that returning to a review of our building blocks may be essential.

In my own writing, I will sometimes take shortcuts. And my grammar will suffer. (It’s like I’ve forgotten that I have a base for my language!)

When you write, you probably have fluidity because you use your (native) language skills in so many ways throughout any given day. But what happens if you are learning a new language for the first time or reviewing a foreign language you knew in high school? You return to the building blocks of the language and review what each means and, generally, review how the blocks fit together.

When you are editing your own work, do you slow down and really look that each sentence has a subject? What about an object? If you slow down to really look at your use of language--whether it's English, HTML or French—you should look at how each element of the sentence works to bring out the meaning you intended. Look at the building blocks to make sure they are there.

Often, as native speakers, we figure we’ve learned enough language skills and any mention of grammar makes our palms sweat. There are so many moving pieces to keep in mind. But I would encourage that every once in a while, you take a good look at the building blocks of language. Even a quick glance at an editing or grammar book can give your writing a boost. You might even learn a thing or two to improve your writing. Right now, I’m enjoying The Mentor Guide to Punctuation, which I picked up at a book sale. It helps me relax from learning HTML.

Do you have a favorite grammar book that you dip into regularly? What is one grammar problem you know you make, but do it anyway? What would you like to see in an editing class to help you improve your own writing?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor. She lives in North Carolina and frequently pulls out her blocks to play.


  1. Elizabeth:
    I am always checking my CMS when I am editing for WOW! When I am editing for others with no particular style and I am stuck or questioning myself, I like or I just Google the question. I also use my Facebook page to ask what others would do.

    I am TERRIBLE with lie and lay. Still--it's my worst grammar fault.

  2. I use my grammmar book from my (way back in the day)college class, English Comp 101. Really. It's set up for quick reference--and so basic that I can check something easily.

    I'm a bit of a grammar geek, so sometimes I'll read a sentence and think, "Hmmm...something's not right." And invariably, it'll be a long sentence with lots of prepositional phrases where the subject and verb don't agree. So I'll go all the way back, find the subject, then fix the verb. But honestly? Half the time, it *still* won't seem right. :-)


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