When I was in high school, it seemed much easier to keep things like punctuation and syntax straight. Back then, teachers reviewed that stuff every few months. I don’t think I ever had time to forget it, and they had those handy posters on the classroom wall if I got stuck. It was also something that came easily for me. I never understood why some people had so much trouble with it. I would shake my head in disbelief when other students would do things like call apostrophes ‘those flying comma things.’ Let me just say: I get it now.
I don’t know if it’s the effects of having joined the texting world where, “lol u r sooo funny!!! ttyl” is perfectly acceptable,
or if it’s just that I have so much other crap taking up space in my head now. (Examples include, but are not limited to: car payments, job security, taxes.)
It’s not that I’m terrible with grammar and punctuation now, it’s just that things seem less clear-cut than they used to, and at a time when I’m expected to be more confident and competent in my writing.
Having easy-to-use reference material that doesn’t make me feel like an idiot for having to use it is essential.
Here are some of my favorites that never leave the shelf above my writing desk:
Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
The most concise, easiest to use, straightforward book on writing ever written, and it’s small enough to fit in a pocket (okay, maybe a big pocket, but still…) or a purse. It includes examples of common mistakes, not just in punctuation, also spelling, word usage, tense, etc., so you know what not to do. Then, it shows you how to fix them. This book has been a life saver throughout my college career, and when I edit my writing one last time, (and then twice more) before submitting it.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
She made punctuation interesting, even humorous and fun. I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t want to know. It’s like when a magician makes an elephant disappear. I don’t question it. I just stand with my mouth hanging open in disbelief, and applaud. I love the Punctuation Repair Kit that came with the book. The author encourages readers to become punctuation vigilantes who go around fixing signs that say things like, “50% off you’re favorite brands, prices so low you wont believe its real!”
I’ve started doing this. It’s incredibly geeky, good, clean fun… and a public service, if you ask me. (Just make sure you fix it when the managers aren’t looking. Otherwise, they try to take your punctuation stickers and chase you out of the store. Still fun, but more exercise.)
Grammar Smart by the staff of The Princeton Review
A few years ago, my brother started coming to me with questions about prepositions and dependent clauses. I searched my internal memory- I had learned these things, so I must possess the answers- only to discover those files had been overwritten with the rules to beer pong and lyrics to Weird Al songs. Sad, but I guess that’s what happens when you go to college. I invested in this book to help answer his questions and refresh my memory. It was an excellent purchase. They cover everything from parts of speech to punctuation and even gender-neutral writing. (So you can be all politically correct.)
The Chicago Manual of Style
I haven’t sprung for one of these yet, as they are on the spendy side, but, if you want to write professionally, I suggest at least putting it on your wish list. Most publishers I’ve talked to use the formatting and guidlines found here to evaluate submissions, so it can usually give you some insight as to whether your writing is clean and up-to-par.