By Jeremy Niass @JeremyNiass
Why use a colon instead of a semicolon? What is subject-verb agreement?
If you can answer those questions, chances are you have a grasp on the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation.
But if you don’t, there are steps you can take to improve your writing skills.
Let’s start with two observations:
You punctuate sentences.
Sentences are made of grammatical components (that is, grammar).
It makes sense to learn grammar and sentence structure before trying to improve your punctuation. Doing it any other way would be akin to erecting a house frame before laying down a solid foundation.
And once you have improved your grammar and punctuation skills you can hone your writing style by playing with words to make them more powerful.
The following books are useful resources for learning grammar, punctuation, and writing style. They are by no means a comprehensive set: there are hundreds of books on grammar and writing.
But they are a great start.
I recommend reading the books in the order they are presented. There will be some repetition of material, which I include on purpose, as everyone has their own way of explaining concepts and presenting their information.
Grammar and Punctuation
- The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus and Lester Kaufman
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is a great way to start your learning experience. Combined with a great layout and many examples, you will learn a lot from this classic.
- The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman
There is irony in prescribing a book that refers to “only” in a list of grammar books. But putting that aside, Susan Thurman delivers a great book that covers the core concepts of grammar, punctuation, and style in a way that is easy to understand.
- Essentials of English Grammar by L. Sue Baugh
A less well-known book, Essentials of English Grammar reinforces a lot of the content found in the previous books and does so using a simple format.
4. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation by Larry Trask
This is a wonderful, easy-to-read punctuation book. Trask’s insights into the elements of punctuation are brimming with wisdom and insight.
In particular, his section on the four types of commas (listing, joining, gapping, bracketing) gives a valuable exposition into a difficult area of punctuation.
- Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner
Bryan A. Garner is a well-respected author, and he delivers a powerhouse of a book which explains grammar and punctuation in way that is informative and comprehensive.
This book is the longest on the list, so don’t feel pressured to read it cover-to-cover the first time around. But this is the sort of book you can repeatedly refer to.
Having improved your grammar and punctuation skills, it’s time to improve the power of your words. The following books give you insights into how to make yourself a stronger writer.
- Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark delivers some incredible lifelong lessons in this book. From right-branching sentences to the ladder of abstract and concrete, you will gain valuable insights and confidently spring into the world of writing style.
Clark bolsters his tips with fantastic examples that demonstrate the power of the advice he is providing. He also recaps each of the 55 strategies with summary points, so you can quickly refer to them when needed.
- 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost
100 tips may seem like a lot, but Gary Provost delivers these useful tips in short, easy-to-read sections, such as how to write strong or how to overcome writer’s block.
I also enjoyed how Provost explored the world of writing outside of pen and paper. For example, his tips on journaling and making yourself likeable are valuable insights which you can use to improve your soft skills.
- How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark
Some of the most powerful sentences you can write aren’t the longest sentences.
They are short.
Short writing is powerful. It is clear. It gets the message across.
Pick up this book and learn how to make short, strong sentences without compromising your message.
Soon enough you will be on your way to crafting beautiful sentences that will make your reader struggle to turn away.
And with this new-found confidence you will feel like a stronger writer, and the material you produce will leave you feeling more fulfilled.
You have a message to tell the world. Don’t sell yourself short with poor writing.
Feature image: Are you confident in your knowledge of writing’s many elements? Photo: Green Chameleon/Unsplash