In a recent blog post I mentioned that I will comment on grammar when I conduct a GIPS® (Global Investment Performance Standards) verification. Let’s take a moment and review some of the mistakes I often find. Technically, these aren’t GIPS Common Errors, but if we consider what we write (our policies and procedures, as well as the text of our presentations), we know they’re subject to errors, thus these comments.
Perhaps you’ve heard about this book: It’s a somewhat humorous attempt to point out the need to be mindful of your notation. I won’t even attempt to cover all or much of what’s in this book, but will comment on a couple things I often see.
- Use of commas before conjunctions: IF the two clauses that are separated by the conjunction can both stand alone as sentences (i.e., they’re “independent clauses”), then you need a comma, otherwise, no comma. An exception: if it’s a list, then you have a choice as to whether you have a comma. (Oh, and something you might not have known (I didn’t until fairly recently): if you do put a comma before the conjunction following a list (e.g., the fruit I love best are strawberries, bananas, and grapes), it’s called an “Oxford comma.”)
- Use of semicolons: use them to separate independent clauses. Also, use them in lists where the list includes things that have embedded commas.
If you have a list and number them, remember:
- If there’s not a “2,” then there shouldn’t be a “1.”
- If there’s not a “b,” then there shouldn’t be an “a.”
Often overlooked, but simple to avoid.
Possession vs. plural
To use an apostrophe or not? Normally, the apostrophe would be used to indicate possession; e.g.,
- Dave’s blog
- Patrick’s golf clubs
- Chris’s BMW
But not always. An apostrpophe can also be used to replace one or more letters. (e.g., they’re = they are). But sometimes, it’s confusing. Well, I just used the word I was looking for: it’s. It’s a contraction (contracting “it” and “is” into a single word). But what if we mean the possessive part of the word “it,” as in something that belongs to “it,” then what? No apostrophe; its is possessive. Oh, and who’s mean’s “who is,” and the possessive form of “who” is “whose.” And we wonder why English is difficult to learn?
Homophones … which (witch?) word to (too?) use?
Recall that homophones are words that sound the same (or close to the same) but have different meanings. For example, compliment and complement. Or, discreet and discrete. And don’t forget to, two, and too, as well as their, there, and they’re. Oh, and peak, peek, and pique, too! Or, then and than! So many we could cite (sight?). It’s easy to pick the wrong one. I’ve come to realize that when we type, we don’t normally spell out every word, but rather just allow the word to enter our brain, and it then communicates to our fingers, that do the typing. Unfortunately, sometimes the wrong word ends up on the page: not because we don’t know what the right word is, but because our brain just picks one of the several options.
Bullets … be consistent!
I love bullets and often use them. But when doing so, it’s important that they be constructed in a similar manner. What do I mean by this? Well, a few things. First, that our capitalization is consistent. If we capitalize the words in one place, do it everywhere. Second, are they sentences? If yes, remember the punctuation at the end! Third, the structure should be similar. For example, let’s say we’re putting a piece together to promote PMAR and want to highlight what our attendees will get. We might have something like: Our attendees will:
- hear from some of the top speakers in our industry,
- learn great ideas they can take back to the office with them,
- free gifts,
- have fun!
Notice that the first two and fourth bullet all have verbs; we can take each individually and tie it to the first part of the sentence: “Our attendees will.” As in:
- Our attendees will hear from …
- Our attendees will learn great …
- Our attendees will have fun.
But we can’t do that with the fourth bullet. “Our attendees will free gifts” doesn’t work. And so, we need a verb. We can change it to
- receive free gifts,
and it’ll work, since “Our attendees will receive free …” makes sense. This is a great trick to make sure we’ve got the wording correct.
Is it a sentence?
It’s easy to insert a sentence fragment into our writing; that is, something that isn’t quite a sentence; perhaps because it’s missing a subject or a verb. In reality, we don’t need complete sentences. No? Yep! That’s correct.
In his excellent book, The Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth calls this writing technique “Scesis Onomaton.” He explains: “it’s quite possible to write without main verbs. you can’t do it forever, but you can have a go. No verbs. Only fragments. A noun here; a participle there.”
And so, if you are intending to have such a fragment in your writing, that’s great. However, in most cases these are more likely errors. Oh, darn!
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of the Grammarly page on Facebook. Every day, something is posted that I can relate to. It’s often humorous, but also insightful and informative. Their page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/grammarly.
I’m also a big fan of “Grammar Girl.” She has a FB page, too, and her site is a great place to visit: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl. When I have a question about what word to use, I will often do something like key in “then or than” into Google, and see what appears; or, append “Grammar Girl,” so I will see her responses first. While she’s not the only site that offers advice, I like hers quite a bit.
There’s no such thing as writing…
In most of what we write there are opportunities to make improvements, as well as to find mistakes. Review, rewrite, review, rewrite, and continue until we think we’ve done about as much as possible. We can continue this cycle forever, but eventually have to stop and say “it’s good enough!” And then, we notice the error(s) we overlooked during our umpteenth reviews.
It also pays to have others review your writing, especially when it’s important. But, you want to pick someone who, well, let’s say has some good writing skills of their own. To say “Well, I had Mary review it and she thought it was right” isn’t good, if Mary’s a poor writer. The reality is that we are all probably doing a great deal more writing today than we ever expected (emails, blogs, social media, etc.). And although your GIPS policies and procedures aren’t intended to win you any writing awards, you still, no doubt, want them to be as grammatically correct as possible. Thoughts? Please comment! (And, if you notice typos, let me know!)