7 Common Grammar Myths You’ll Never Fall For Again

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Source: Lindsay Kolowich, HubSpot

Spelling and grammar matter. Consistently correct grammar makes content more credible, and could impact its presentation. But there’s a lot of conflicting advice about what things are (and aren’t) grammatically correct. Here are seven common grammar myths.

Myth #1: You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.

Ending a sentence with a preposition is not a grammatical error.

For example: “Bob has a lot to be happy about.” This sounds worse: “Bob has a lot about which to be happy.”

Although the revised version is technically and more formally correct, it sounds stiff and unnatural.

So, go with whichever sounds better.

Myth #2: You shouldn’t split infinitives.

An infinitive is a verb in its most basic form: “to walk,” “to see,” “to eat,” etc. To break an infinitive means to put a word or several words in between “to” and the verb itself — as in, “to automatically update an account.”

There’s actually nothing grammatically incorrect about splitting infinitives. The only reason you wouldn’t want to do this is if the resulting sentence just didn’t sound right.

Myth #3: “i.e.” and “e.g.” mean the same thing.

If you struggle with remembering which is which, here’s what’s up: “i.e.” means “that is” or “in other words,” and “e.g.” means “example given” or “for example.”

Myth #4: “–” and “—” are totally different.

Both “–” and “—” are versions of the dash: “–” is the en dash, and “—” or “–” are both versions of the em dash. You can use either the en dash or the em dash to signify a break in a sentence or set off parenthetical statements.

The en dash, not the em dash, can also be used to represent time spans or differentiation (e.g., “that will take 5–10 minutes” and “we crossed the Spanish-French border”). The em dash, not the en dash, can be used to set off quotation sources (e.g., “‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ —Shakespeare”).

Myth #5: You use “a” before words that start with consonants, and “an” before words that start with vowels.

You use “a” before words that start with consonant sounds, and “an” before words that start with vowel sounds. For example, it’s correct to write “I have an RSS feed” but incorrect to write “I have a RSS feed.” When in doubt, sound the sentence out in your head.

Myth #6: “Irregardless” is not a word.

Yes, it is a word. And it means “regardless.” Someone even wrote an entire article about it in the Huffington Post.

But even though it’s technically a word, you may not want to use it. Some people still frown upon it, so you may not want to use it in your content.

Myth #7: You can’t start sentences with “and,” “but,” or “or.”

Often, the choice is stylistic. If the sentence reads better, keep the conjunction. If it functions just as well without the conjunction, or if you can connect it to the previous sentence without compromising readability, then reconsider using it.

 

 

Responsive Web Design: Tailoring Your Content to Fit Smaller Screens

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We’re faced with a greater number of devices today. Technical communicators must make their content easy to access on not only on desktop and laptop computers, but also on mobile phones, tablets, and other devices with varying screen sizes. The solution to this is responsive web design (RWD). Responsive design “frees our content” to work anywhere, anytime. It means we no longer need to spend time designing and creating deliverables for different devices.

Creating responsive outputs means that we need to adopt a “mobile first” mindset. Our content needs to be designed to work well on mobile (smaller) screens first because when we write/make other changes for mobile, then the content will work well on tablets, the desktop, etc. The constraints of the mobile context force us to focus on what content is essential and how to present that content as quickly as possible.

Here are a few “mobile first” best practices, some technical and some content changes:

Keep image files small. Large image files will increase load time, which is something mobile users have no patience for, in fact, 74% of mobile users will leave a website that takes more than 5 seconds to load.

Write concisely. Always an excellent best practice, but now more important than ever. And this isn’t just about screen size; those working on smaller devices have less patience to wade through content. (Another benefit: this also reduces translation costs.)

Employ progressive information disclosure. This helps maintain the focus of the reader’s attention by reducing clutter and presenting only the minimum data required for a task, thus making information easier to find. Using collapsible text and inline text (dynamic help features) can be good solutions.

Improve navigation. Add related links at the end of topics so there’s no need to use the device’s “back” button. This makes it is easier to navigate away from your content.

Make links easier to use. Don’t bury too many links in the same paragraph because they will be harder to use on mobile devices. Consider making the most important links into buttons.

Streamline your table of contents. A TOC that is 4-5 levels deep is more challenging to navigate on mobile devices.

Avoid second, third, etc. level bullets and numbering. It is harder to see the relationships between levels on smaller devices.

Take a look at your tables. Some tables might have too many columns and can be very lengthy. Simplify them, and eliminate the ones that aren’t necessary. You can take advantage of responsive table reflow, but you will want to verify that your tables are usable on smaller devices.

Clean up your terminology. Your content needs to work on devices where you tap, and those where you click. Avoid using device-specific terms.

Creating purposeful, versatile content for the mobile web is one thing we can all strive toward.

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The Punctuation Revolution

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What happened to punctuation as we knew it? If you’ve been striving to use it properly in print, digital technology has changed the way we use it today. For example, we are more focused on word count than sentence structure. Even for the non-grammatically obsessed, deviations from the established rules of punctuation and grammar indicate a break from tradition.

With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, texts, and social networking, we’re communicating our thoughts so much and so fast that punctuation has become less important, almost superfluous. Internet culture generally favors a lighter, more informal style of punctuation.

Technology has led us to use written language more like speech, in a real-time, back-and-forth between two or more people. For example, a line break allows people to more accurately emulate in writing the rhythm of speech.

When texting first became popular, all grammar bets were off. It’s now the emotion or intent behind the communication that matters. For example, periods and commas have become unnecessary. As long as you get your point across, sentence structure has become a thing of the past. Following are some examples:

The period: Why use it at the end of a sentence when the meaning doesn’t change whether it’s there or not. It can be completely absent and becomes implied. Other times a comma takes its place.

The comma: Once it was used to separate phrases in a sentence, now (rather than a semicolon) it’s used to string together two sentences for one train of thought.

The semicolon: It’s not quite a comma or period. The semicolon was useful as a separator and connector, but today no one uses semicolons in day-to-day casual writing.

The exclamation point: Aside from eliminating punctuation, we also use it excessively. For example, adding five exclamation points instead of one shows that we are passionate. In the past, using exclamation points too frequently was thought to make them less meaningful.

As the long-established rules for grammar have faded, and we spend hours communicating by digital media, it seems punctuation has just been a fad, and it comes and goes with the times.

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