Children, and by association adults, need good grammar to write well, strongly asserts the Department for Education. In contrast, a study by University College London, confirms what we at Business Writing Academy (BWA) know well: the study of grammar has no measurable impact on our ability to write effectively. Grammar can produce correct, and incorrect, answers in exams, which is helpful if you want to score and rank students. Does knowing the rules of grammar, though, help people write an email or report clearly?
In other words, follow the basic rules and don’t agonise over obscure irrelevancies. Usually, if what you have written makes sense when you read it, the grammar is absolutely fine.
Grammar is not a foundation of language; it is a description of how language should work. Not so much the bones of a language, more its husk. In other words, grammar labels have no real use in the workplace. Secondary school teachers who see children with little enthusiasm for writing probably agree, wearily.
The BWA modules are all anyone needs to be able to write clearly. Plus, we suggest that people read as much as possible: books and stories, newspapers and magazines. Keep reading and in a short space of time the difference between clear and unclear will be obvious.
But, if you really want to know what a ‘fronted adverbial’ is (does anyone?), it is a word often ending in “ly” that modifies the verb but goes at the front of the sentence. For example: “Furiously, the Mother remonstrated with the Minister for Education.”
Modal verb? This is an auxiliary “helper” verb that tells you about intent such as can, may, could, should. “The children wanted to throw rotten fruit at the Minister, but they knew deep down they shouldn’t.”
Expanded noun? This is a device that gives more detail or information about a noun. For example: “Editing, the writer knew, was a tricky and difficult skill.”
Subordinate clause? A clause that cannot stand alone but adds to a sentence’s main clause: “Editing, they knew, was a difficult and tricky skill, best left to others.”
Parsing: is the break-down of a sentence into its component grammatical parts: main verb, auxiliary verb, subject, object, relative clause and so on. Not something that tends to be done in the workplace, largely because it serves no useful purpose especially when preparing a report that must, above all, be clearly understood.
To write well and clearly, the Business Writing Academy modules are a great start, alongside ongoing reading. The Economist, Financial Times and New York Times are all highly recommended to accelerate your ability to write clearly.