Six Grammar Reminders for Journalism Majors and Authors

Just starting out with your manuscript? You're probably struggling with the insane amount of grammar and spelling rules while also crafting your story.

Below are six grammar reminders to help you along the way. Write these down and keep track of your progress - you can even create a grammar journal, if you want to stay ahead of the game. Most students struggle with these changes. If you’re one of them, you're not alone.

Let's get started.

1. Use real quotation marks, rather than foot markers

Believe it or not, many computers automatically insert foot markers (the measurements of feet and inches) rather than actual quotation marks. This will drive your professors insane, if you don't make alterations before turning in your piece.

Fonts like Times New Roman will generate foot markers instead of quotation marks. You'll notice the difference because foot markers are straight lines, rather than curved quotes. Monitor this closely, and mess with the settings on your computer. Sometimes, it's just a matter of changing your font. Other times, you'll need to make the change manually.

2. Frame your quotes correctly

Many college students don't know how to properly format their quotes. Below are a few examples of the wrong format:

“The dog jumped over the moon,” She said.

“the dog jumped over the moon.” she said.

“The dog jumped over the moon”, she said.

Okay, let’s just get a few things straight. First of all, the first letter of a quote is always capitalized. Secondly, unless an exclamation point or a question mark are involved, the comma always goes between the last word in the quote and the ending quotation marks. And, finally, the pronoun (in this case “she”) is always lowercase (unless, of course, it’s a proper noun like “Julie”).

It should really look like this:

“The dog jumped over the moon,” she said.

Because so many novelists and essayists allow their work to be published without proper quotation editing, many young writers are confused about how it should look. Journalistically, the method given above is the proper print method.

3. Avoid long, rambling sentences

Notice my sentence in the previous section:

“Because so many novelists and essayists allow their work to be published without proper quotation editing, many young writers are confused about how it should look.”

This sentence is far too long for a journalistic article. You’d need to say something more like:

“Many novelists publish their work without proper quotation editing. Because of this, young writers are often confused about how it should look.”

One long, rambling sentence should become two or three short, succinct sentences.

4. "They're", "Their", and "There"

Let’s quickly review the uses of these three terms.

“Their” involves possession. For example, you might say:

“Their home was beautiful.”

“They’re” is a contraction, meaning “they are”. For example, you might say:

“They’re going to the beach.”

“There” involves a place or a sense of being. For example, you might say:

“There is a beautiful home by the beach.”

You need to be especially careful when using these words in stories, because your editor will explode after two or three transgressions.

5. "Than" versus "Then"

Another quick review.

“Than” involves a comparison. For example, you might say:

“She likes soda more than milk.”

“Then” involves a sequence, meaning “next” or “therefore”. For example, you might say:

“We’re going to the beach, then to the movies.”

6. "Effect" versus "Affect"

Our final review is one of my personal favorites. I can’t even begin to tell you how many journalism students confuse these two words.

“Effect” means a consequence. It’s a noun, or a thing. For example, you might say:

“Her anxiety was an effect of her previous relationship.”

“Affect” means that something is being “had”. Or an effect is being made. For example, you might say:

“Her anxiety is affecting her schoolwork.”

Most of the time, “affect” is used as a present-tense verb, or “affecting”. Usually, this trick helps students remember the difference between the two.

When it comes to journalism, professors are extremely picky about the pieces their students turn in, specifically when it comes to grammar and spelling. Using the wrong word too many times can be the difference between moving up and staying where you are on a newspaper staff. Keep this in mind as you take more advanced courses.

The most important thing in journalism is professionalism. You’ll need to remember that.

Good luck!

by Cassandra Bondie, writer at

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Comment by Pamela Adams Shanette on June 28, 2016 at 1:06pm

Thanks Cassandra good reminder.

Comment by Suzy Soro on April 30, 2016 at 11:33am

Thanks for explaining foot markers. I'm using TNR as my font and in editing, kept seeing these marks I thought I never made! 

Comment by Patricia Robertson on April 28, 2016 at 11:47am

I continue to struggle with affect/effect. Don't know why, I just do. :)

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