WOPservations- Writing advice from several years of W.O.P. observation
Author: Mary-Annalee DiGiovanni

Chapter 1
Out Loud, Out Right: Fixing Grammar and Punctuation

Perhaps the number one problem I have noticed young writers deal with is being able to see when they've made a mistake in their work. Yes, we all have our points- no matter how experienced or inexperienced- when we consider ourselves flawless as writers. We are invincible, achieving works of perfection the very first time we try! No revision is needed, and no criticism seems to fit our masterpieces! But in truth, we all make errors, and there is no need to be defensive or bashful about them.

I've heard complaints from friends and classmates alike, talking of how difficult it is or them to know where to use a comma or period, where to use “is” instead of “are”, or where to use “there”, “their”, and “they're”. It's a common thing to struggle with, and no matter how advanced the writer, they can find themselves having used the wrong word or punctuation mark. These can be hard to catch when you simply read through written materials, as the brain doesn’t necessarily show any less understanding of a phrase just because of a misplaced comma, or a “there” instead of a “their”. In fact, the majority of people (unless you're a punctuation and grammar Nazi like myself) can look right over mistakes without noticing or caring because the brain is prone to looking over such bits and automatically wanting to make sense of the information it is absorbing.

The solution for this? There isn't necessarily a single cure for anything one problem in this world, as we are all different people and deal with matters in unique ways. However, in my experience, and in the experience of many others, it has been helpful to read pieces aloud. Why? Because reading it aloud is like reading it two times at once; you are reading visually, and having it read to you by your own lips, thus reading it through what you hear.

For punctuation fixes as you read, think of how you want your words to sound and be phrased. Read it aloud how you want readers to take it in, and see if your punctuation matches up with the pauses and stops coming from your mouth. This will help you get a better grasp for where your commas and periods etc. ought to be placed. This is more important than you may think.

For example, there is a huge difference between:

“Let's go eat, Amanda” and “Let's go eat Amanda”.

Comma placement can be a life or death matter!

Reading it out loud, should help you get things out right.

Grammar is a little harder. Though reading it aloud can certainly help with “is” and “are” and “was” and “were” issues, there is still the matter of “their”, “there”, and “they're”. To catch and fix problems of this nature, my suggestion would be to highlight all three types of the homophone in your work., and one by one, consider whether or not it has been used correctly. Ask yourself: Does this sentence call for the possessive “their”(their mother, their father, their room) the state of being “they're” (they're going, they're jealous, they're lost), or the “place-indicating” and what I would call a regular “there” (there they are, there are none left, there is no way)? The same sort of method can be applied to solving matters of “your” (possessive) and “you're” (state of being). Using these words interchangeably is unacceptable, and changes the meaning of what you want to say.


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