Writing resolutions for 2022

Want to improve your communication skills in the new year? Here are some easy resolutions you can make.

I will remember the meaning of “if.” You’d be amazed how often I fix misused “ifs” in my editing work: “If the worst happens and you get into a car accident, continue reading for some expert tips and advice.” When your introductory phrase starts with “if,” the stuff that follows needs to be contingent on that “if.” No one who just got into a car accident is going to pull over to the shoulder, take out their phone and read those tips. Look for ways to reword. “What if you get in an accident? Read these tips so you’ll know what to do.”

I will look up a past tense or past participle in the dictionary. Dreamed or dreamt? Laid or lay? Hanged or hung? Most people never realize that the answers are at their fingertips. They are. To figure out tricky past tense forms or past participles, just look up the verb in the dictionary: dream, lay or hang. Then take note of the past tense and past participle forms that follow. For example, in the dictionary entry for “lie” you’ll see “lay, lain.” Dictionaries put the simple past tense first, then the past participle. So you know it’s “yesterday I lay down” and “in the past I have lain down.” If you see the word “or” or “also,” it means you can choose. For example, “hanged” and “hung” are acceptable as both simple past tense and past participles. “Dreamed” and “dreamt” are both OK in all past uses, too.

I will quit abusing single quotation marks. When you want something weaker than quotation marks but stronger than nothing at all, it’s tempting to use single quotation marks: The word ‘resolution’ gives me panic attacks. But single quote marks are only for quoted matter within other quotations. To shine the spotlight on a word you want to emphasize, use regular quotation marks: The word “resolution” gives me panic attacks.

I will put a comma before a direct address. Where does the comma go in “Hey Bob” — after “hey” or after “Bob”? The answer may surprise you: Even if this is your greeting for an email, the comma should go after “hey.” That’s because punctuation rules say a “direct address” — meaning when you call someone by their name or another moniker — is set off with commas. So what goes after “Bob”? How about a period, since “Hey” represents a complete thought and can be punctuated like a complete sentence. “Hey, Bob. How are you?” But “hey,” “hi,” “hello” and the like are different from “dear.” When you start correspondence with “Dear Bob,” the “dear” is functioning as an adjective. And because we don’t put a comma between an adjective and a noun — “nice car” — the greeting “Dear Bob” does not take an internal comma.

I will practice reshuffling adjectives. You know how sometimes when there are multiple adjectives before a noun it’s not clear whether they should be separated by commas: a bright, green, Hawaiian shirt vs. a bright green Hawaiian shirt? There’s an easy test you can perform. Move the adjectives around. If they work just as well in any order, use commas. If not, don’t. A Hawaiian green bright shirt is nonsensical. So no commas in a bright green Hawaiian shirt.