I’m on record as saying that I think the most important thing to do in writing is structuring your text – and that grammar is something that people can worry about once they have organised their thoughts.
I am aware, though, that that is an easy thing to say when you are writing in your mother tongue. In that environment, we all have an innate understanding of how our language works, and what feels wrong and what feels right.
But for people who need to write in a second or third language (as so many people are in our English-dominated world), fear of getting things wrong can be confidence-sapping and inhibiting.
For people like these, my advice remains that the first step is to come up with a really solid outline for the text you want to write. Make an outline with ideas for a beginning, a middle and an end, and then list the points or events to be covered in each of those phases.
The next step is to write your text, trying as you do to put fear aside. Say what you want to say (it helps to write as you would speak, or perhaps to write in your mother tongue and then translate that into the target language).
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about grammar and spelling. Fortunately, there are a number of online tools you can use to improve your writing.
SPELLING AND GRAMMAR CHECKERS
Microsoft’s Word has an inbuilt grammar and spelling checker.
The key thing to do is to make sure that you have it set to the language that is relevant to your text. In Word in Microsoft 365, you find the checker in both the Home and Review menus, called “Editor”.
You can set the language in the Review Tab, using the Language icon. There are usually several varieties of English available – hunt for the one applicable to your audience. Make sure to do this before you run the checking tool.
Tip: Sometimes, the language you select doesn’t “take”. If that happens, select the whole text (Control-A is the keyboard shortcut) and then select the language again.
In Google Docs, the grammar and spelling check is in the Tools menu, and the language can be set in the File menu.
General note: if you are writing for a South African audience, and SA English is not available, select the UK version of English.
You could also use an online app – the best on the market is Grammarly, which can be used to scan various kinds of documents (and has a really good blog covering various writing and grammar issues). It’s a good idea to sign up for a Grammarly account, and the free version is really helpful. You can also download various apps, depending on your operating system
Readability is the measure of how easily the content of your text can be understoon, by its intended audience or by others. It deals with complexity, syntax, spelling, grammar, and other technical issues.
A better readability score means that reading your work is easier for everyone.
(Recommended reading: Readability Scales: Do They Matter and Which Do You Trust?)
But be aware: they have limitations. They tend to apply formulas which look at just two things – word length or difficulty, and sentence length. A bad score doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is bad, it might just be too complex.
My advice is to use them right at the end of your writing process. If you get a “bad” score, you know you have to do one more rewrite.
Examples worth trying:
(You need to register, and the free version has a limit on how many documents you can upload).
The Dejargoniser is a good tool for detecting the extent to which you have used jargon in your writing.
RECOMMENDED READING ABOUT WRITING
Really good writing and editing tips (remember: once you have written something, you have to edit your own work!)
Your complete self-editing checklist
Long read with tips on how to improve your writing:
10 Self-Editing Tips that Will Make You a Better Writer
Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media).
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Main picture: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu, Unsplash