Years ago, when I first became interested in gardening, I knew nothing about how to grow beautiful plants.  I knew nothing about how to lay out and organize the landscape to intensify the visual effect.  However, I did know what was pleasing to my eye.  I could look at a landscaped yard or garden; and I knew which ones were layed out correctly and which ones were sloppy.  In those years, I didn’t understand that there are principles that govern landscaping.  However, I slowly began to learn what worked by looking at what I liked and mimicking it in my own patch of ground.

The presence of rules and the necessity to obey these rules is true in every endeavor of life.  Whether we are building a building, stopping an oil leak in the Gulf, building a rocket to carry us to Mars, or ministering to people who are mentally challenged, there are rules that work and cannot be broken.  All of us agree until it comes to writing.  Somehow we believe that putting down our random thoughts will be sufficient to bless others.  Sorry but that isn’t true.

 Over the past years, I’ve attended and taught writing classes.  Always the instructor begins with the basics.  The basics of writing are good grammar and proper punctuation.  These are the rules you were taught from first grade to sixth grade in elementary school.  However, as adults we somehow believe that these laws of the English grammar don’t apply to us if we have something of value to say.

Just as I understood what a garden should look like as a young child, people intuitively understand what makes good writing and they don’t like it when the rules of grammar are broken.  They may not know the principles in their head; but they intuitively recognize good writing and they want more.  Sentence structure and paragraph construction are the rules of engagement for a writer.  Good grammar is the foundation formula of success in the same way algebra is the cornerstone of higher math. 

Here are the things that need to be as familiar to you as wart on your chin.

  • What makes a complete sentence?  This is a sentence.  Nevertheless, even though working hard to make this string of words long, convoluted and as complicated as anyone can imagine or think about and even though beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period.  That was not a sentence.
  • What is a subject and a predicate?
  • What are the 8 parts of speech and how do they function in a sentence?
  • What makes a paragraph?
  • When can I break the rules and make my writing even more effective?
  • When should quotations be used?
  • What is the correct way to punctuate a sentence when using quotations?
  • What are the rules of punctuation?
  • What is a punctuation mark?

Sounds complicated?  Breaking it down, it’s really quite simple.  

  1. There are only eight parts of speech. 
  2. There are only four elements of sentence construction. 
  3. There are merely four types of sentences.   
  4. There are only ten basic marks of punctuation. 
  5. There are only three basic mistakes that you can make in sentence structure:  fragmented sentences, comma splices and run-on sentences.

Remember a fifth grader can grasp and even master these important principles.  By sixth grade, they have become a part of a student’s writing skills.   For a quick tutorial, you might want to visit some on-line sites, such as Towson University’s Online Writing Support.