My top tips to ace spelling, punctuation and grammar for assignments and the workplace
Assignment writing advice
Whilst I was studying, I found that my mind sprouted lots of ideas and solutions to the subjects I was learning, but I always found it difficult to get these down onto paper. They would be a jumble of sentences and diagrams that were not coherent. It was especially challenging when the subject was complex.
One of the many skills I learned from my tutor, was how to write clearly and concisely about complex subjects. He explained that the reader is not always an expert, so we need to explain everything clearly to make sure they understand, and we achieve the learning outcomes.
This is where grammar comes in; it explains how words are arranged into sentences. Using just a few useful tools, I became better at conveying the answers in my mind onto paper. This helped me achieve higher grades and reduced my stress levels when it came to completing an assignment. Here are some of my hints and tips to help with spelling, punctuation, and grammar (or, SPAG for short!):
Computer software tools such as ‘Spellcheck’ are not always reliable. For example, spellcheck will not likely raise the incorrect use of ‘affect’ and ‘effect’. These mistakes are easily spotted by examiners and employers as a classic example of lack of attention to detail.
Ask somebody to proofread for you. You may have formed a sentence that makes sense to you, but occasionally, the order of words may cause the reader to misinterpret what you are trying to say. For example, which sentence do you find easier to read:
‘Mike could read the sign easily written in Spanish.’ Or ‘Mike could easily read the sign written in Spanish.’
Find somebody that you trust (family, friends or teachers) to proof-read and provide constructive feedback for you.
If time allows, review what you have written again a few hours later. When you have just written something, it usually looks suitable, but you may have overlooked some minor mistakes. Pretend you are marking somebody else’s work and put your grammar-police hat on.
When proof-reading your work, read it aloud and take punctuation seriously. For every comma, take a short pause. For every full-stop, take a longer pause. For every exclamation mark, increase the volume and energy in your voice. You could even record yourself, then think back; was that coma in the right place? Do I need more commas or other forms of punctuation?
The importance of keeping up these skills for the workplace
When you are applying for a job, you will need to provide a curriculum vitae (CV), and in some cases, you will need to provide a covering letter. You will also need to be able to communicate with hiring managers via email. In all these cases, the employer will be focussing on how suitable you are for the role. It is really important to make sure that your skillset is front and centre, which means… do not distract them with incorrect spelling and grammar! Good SPAG is expected as a minimum for most roles, so to set a good tone, make sure that every written communication with them is proof-read and checked where possible.
In the workplace, you may be expected to write emails, plans, reports, and presentations. Correct spelling is fundamental to demonstrating that you are knowledgeable about the subject you are writing about. Grammar and punctuation are vital to making sure your message comes across the way you intend it to. The way you have arranged your words and the manner of your writing should be adapted depending on your audience. It really helped me to consider the following questions:
What level of understanding of the subject does the audience have already?
How much time do they have to read my report/email/presentation?
What do I want them to take away?
Once you understand these requirements, it should help you construct meaningful documents as part of your professional career.
Even now, I look back on successful reports I wrote last year, and they make me cringe! But there is no shame in this, because with each email, report or presentation, I get better at conveying my message, which means you can too.
About the author:
My name is Preeya Lakhani, and I am Project Manager at a major UK Defence Contractor. To get to where I am today, I studied a Higher National Certificate (HNC), a Higher National Diploma (HND), and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. I really enjoyed my Higher National qualifications because they enabled me to find a study-style that worked for me and equipped me for what the real world was like.