A friend asked a question via Facebook. “I want to improve my punctuation. Can you recommend a book to help me?” As a writer and former writing teacher, I’m often asked this question, and my answer surprises many people.
Buy a children’s book.
Not just any children’s book. Go to your local bookstore or go to Amazon and find a children, teen, or young adult study guide to grammar. My favorite is the A+ Guide to Grammar published by Scholastic. It’s out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon and from other sources.
Why a children or teen guide to grammar? It’s written simply, with clear, logical organization. That’s important. Most people don’t sit down to read a grammar book cover to cover. They pick up such a book when they need to look something up quickly and find an answer fast. “Can I use a semi colon here, or should I break it into two sentences?” “Do I use a comma after the word ‘and’ in this sentence or not?” Such questions are easier to answer in a young adult guide to grammar because the author has arranged the pages with the most frequently asked questions in mind.
Another reason I like guides written for young people is that they are written in an engaging, conversational style. Grammar and punctuation is boring enough without feeling like the book you’re reading is an old school marm complete with pince-nez and her hair in a bun shaking the scolding finger at you. That’s probably the reason you need to brush up your grammar anyway; somewhere, somehow, you were bored or shamed to death around your writing and so you gave up. Most people have an inner school marm tucked away in their minds, and the last thing you need when you’re trying to improve your writing skills as an adult is to trot her out for another scolding. Hide her back in the closet and find some fun, interesting way to improve.
Of course, the best way to improve your writing is to write, and to receive feedback from a kind friend you trust. If you don’t know such a person, consider visiting your local high school’s adult education program or community college for a writing class. It can’t hurt, and it will help you “strong sales through gentle marketing” efforts as you take your first steps into writing your website content, articles, blog posts and social media updates.