Avoid common grammatical and usage errors in your communications

We frequently see good work spoiled by the presence of incorrect grammar and usage that does not conform to common standards used in Australia. Whilst the use of poor grammar and usage seems to be of less and less concern these days, its use tends to draw attention to itself in good quality publications. It can signal to the reader that this is an amateur effort and not to be taken too seriously. It may send a subliminal message that this publication lacks credibility.

We’ve listed some of the more common usage and grammatical mistakes we encounter. Avoid these mistakes and make your work read more professionally.

When referring to a decade, don’t use an apostrophe as in 90’s, use ’90s.

Use hyphens as dashes to hyphenate words (in-between), en rules between numbers (100–200) and em rules between words (different files — for instance).

Don’t use ampersands (‘&’) in text, use the word ‘and’.

Don’t Make Excessive Use Of Capitals — keep them to a minimum — even in book titles.

Use single quotation marks (‘ ’) rather than double quotation marks(“ ”), and use curly quotes (‘ ’) in preference to straight up and down quotes (‘ ‘). The use of single quotes rather than double quotes is standard usage in Australia. The use of double quotes is standard usage in the USA.

Punctuation marks in Australia are placed AFTER quotation marks (’.), NOT before as the USA (.”). There are exceptions, but this is normal practice in Australia.

Use single spaces between sentences, not two spaces.

Use EITHER line spaces OR indents to separate paragraphs, but not both.

The text in books is usually left AND right justified, not ragged right.

Be very conservative with hyphenation, and check that hyphenation occurs in a logical place in the hyphenated word. You can control this in most software packages.

Serif fonts (letters that have tails) are generally regarded as easier to read than non-serif fonts.

Control widows and orphans. Paragraphs of four lines or more should always have a minimum of two lines at the bottom of a page, or at the start of the next page — not one line. This can be controlled in most software packages.

Make sure your usage of ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ is correct. ‘It’s’ is always short for ‘it is’ (as in it’s snowing), or in informal speech, for ‘it has’ (as in it’s got blue feathers). The word ‘its’ means ‘belonging to it’ (as in hold its head still while I jump on its back). It is a possessive pronoun like his. So ONLY use ‘it’s’ when it is a shortened form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Otherwise it’s always its. Thanks to the Oxford Dictionary for these concise definitions.

Understand the difference between abbreviations and contractions, and the way they are punctuated. Abbreviations consist of the first letter of a word, usually some other letters, but not the last letter. There is always a full stop after an abbreviation (para. Mon. Rev. tel. fig.). Contractions consist of the first and last letters of a word and sometimes other letters in between. Importantly, they do not have a full stop after them (Mr, Dr, Revd, Rd, Qld).

Anyone charged with responsibility of writing material for others to read should have a copy of ‘Style manual, For authors, editors and printers, Sixth edition’, published by John Wiley, Paperback, ISBN 0 7016 3648 3. I am indebted to this publication for some of the material above.