A few words about grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage and sentence construction

Ira Chinoy / JOUR 772 & 472 / Philip Merrill College of Journalism


Follow the guidelines from your AP Stylebook for written assignments for this course. These are not arbitrary rules. They help ensure the accuracy of your sentences. Missing or misplaced punctuation can dramatically alter meaning of what you write. These rules also help your reader more easily navigate your sentences. Failure to follow these rules will signal to your readers that you are not professional. Get in the habit of writing clean, crisp, error-free sentences all the time. Check, revise and rewrite your work. You will win the admiration of your teachers, editors, employers and other readers. Job recruiters routinely reject applications because sloppy cover letters sloppiness that can be avoided by developing the habits I am proposing here.


Be sure to read the AP Stylebook entry on commas (in the punctuation section), and pay careful attention to the following guidance quoted from that entry:


WITH INTRODUCTORY CLAUSES AND PHRASES: A comma is used to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the main clause: When he had tired of the mad pace of New York, he moved to Dubuque.

The comma may be omitted after short introductory phrases if no ambiguity would result: During the night he heard many noises.

But use the comma if its omission would slow comprehension: On the street below, the curious gathered.

WITH CONJUNCTIONS: When a conjunction such as and, but or for links two clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences, use a comma before the conjunction in most cases: She was glad she had looked, for a man was approaching the house.

As a rule of thumb, use a comma if the subject of each clause is expressly stated: We are visiting Washington, and we also plan a side trip to Williamsburg. We visited Washington, and our senator greeted us personally. But no comma when the subject of the two clauses is the same and is not repeated in the second: We are visiting Washington and plan to see the White House.

The comma may be dropped if two clauses with expressly stated subjects are short. In general, however, favor use of a comma unless a particular literary effect is desired or if it would distort the sense of a sentence.


The following three entries from the AP Stylebook can help you avoid common errors:

  • that, which
  • essential clauses, nonessential clauses
  • essential phrases, nonessential phrases


In addition, watch out for run-on sentences. Look for ways to break up long sentences. Watch out for repetition. And watch out for extra words that you do not need to convey your meaning.