Rhetoric and Composition/Know your patterns

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Getting your grammar and punctuation right in your writing is easier than you think. That’s because, for the most part, writers don’t make every mistake. Instead, we tend to make a few of the same mistakes multiple times, such as always missing the comma after an introductory clause, or forgetting to match up our nouns and pronouns in the right way. This means that you don’t have to worry about learning every grammar and punctuation rule; chances are, you follow most of them already.

Following patterns allows you then to focus only on the mistakes you make habitually — and often a writing instructor or writing center tutor can help you identify what those are. Once you know what they are, it’s a matter of making sure you understand how to find those errors when editing your own writing and how to correct them.

Don’t worry about having to memorize the grammar and punctuation rules you need to implement or learning them so deeply that you’ll never again make certain errors. Both of these things usually come in time, but what’s most important when you’re first diving into the world of punctuation and grammar are these two habits:

  • leaving time to edit at the sentence level after you’ve finished drafting. The best writers don’t write error-free; rather, the best writers edit their work.
  • having and consulting resources when correcting your mistakes. Why do you think there are hundreds of writer’s handbooks online and at the bookstore?! It’s precisely because writers of every stripe make mistakes in grammar and punctuation and need to frequently (and repeatedly) look up the answers. You may internalize the rules for using a colon after you’ve looked them up twenty-nine times — or you may not, so your handbook might just start falling open to that page. That’s just fine; the important thing is having a handy place to look up rules when you’re editing.