There are plenty of high-achievers and successful professionals who have poor grammar. It’s not for a lack of smarts.

However, prospective clients often don’t see it that way. When they find a grammar goof in your marketing materials, sometimes that’s all the reason they need to go someplace else for their real estate services

When it comes to marketing materials, your first goal should always be to engage your target audience, put them at ease and write in a way that makes them want to keep reading. Marketing materials that are too formal and grammar-restrictive are just plain boring. But you don’t want to do anything that will embarrass you or your business.

grammar is goodThe biggest stumbling block for non-professional writers (and even professionals) is that there are a number of different interpretations of the grammar rules. The so-called “laws of grammar” would never hold up in court. More conventions than rigid rules, they change with the times, are different in academic and professional environments, are always being updated, and are much debated among individual writers. The truth is, much of the English language is open to interpretation (“style” it’s called). Yet, every stylebook differs somewhat. Even more confounding: Most large companies have their own proprietary stylebooks.

The best strategy is to choose a style (based on a respected style guide) and use it uniformly and consistently. Consistency is the key. Most professional marketing writers use the same style guide that newspapers use (the Associated Press Stylebook), combined with a personal style guide they’ve compiled on their own.

Included below are suggestions you can use to resolve some of the more common grammar goofs.

Use single spaces between sentences

The practice of putting two spaces between sentences is a carryover from the days of typewriters and their monospaced typefaces. Including two spaces made it easier to see where one sentence ended and the next began. Computers – as well as modern-day typewriters – use proportionally spaced fonts, so only one space is required today.

When to use numerals and number words

The Associated Press Stylebook states that, in general, numbers less than 10 should be spelled-out (e.g., “one,” “five,” “seven”), and that numerals be used for 10 and greater (e.g., “10,” “32,” “153”). For percentages and architectural measurements, numerals should always be used.

Referring to non-specific amounts

  • Few = not many; a small number.
  • Several = more than two, but not many.
  • A couple = While Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it as “two” in formal writing, and “a small number” in informal writing, stick with the formal definition to avoid confusion.
  • A lot (not “alot”) = a large number or amount; a great deal.

Use “and” (not the ampersand symbol)

The Associated Press Stylebook says the ampersand (&) should only be used when it’s part of a formal company name (e.g., “Anderson & Sons”). Otherwise, it should never be used in place of the word “and.”

Use “he” or “his” when gender is generic or unknown

In English, there is no non-gender singular pronoun. Therefore, the use of “his” when referring to a non-specific person has become the norm. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, “Do not presume maleness in constructing a sentence, but use the pronoun ‘he’ or ‘his’ when an indefinite antecedent may be male or female.”

The difference between “its” and “it’s”

“It’s” is a contraction that means “it is” or “it has.” Meanwhile, “its” is a pronoun stand-in for the subject of the sentence (e.g., “the neighborhood has its own community center”).

The difference between “there,” “their” and “they’re”

  • The adverb “there” is used to indicate direction (“The former owners lived there for 10 years”).
  • The pronoun “their” is used to show possession (The former owners housed their horses in the backyard”).
  • “They’re” is a contraction for the words “they are” (They’re hoping for a quick close on the sale of the property”).

When to use “me” and “I” with another subject

When confused about whether to use “me” or “I” when referring to you and another person / thing, mentally remove the other subject from the sentence and it should become clear:

  • CORRECT: “My client and I are interested in your property.”
  • CORRECT: “I am interested in your property.”
  • INCORECT: “Me am interested in your property.”

When to use “a” or “an”

Use the article “a” when the word that follows it begins with a consonant (or a consonant sound):

  • CORRECT: “A modern house.”

Use the article “an” when the word that follows it begins with a vowel (or a vowel sound):

  • CORRECT: “An historic house.” (“H” is a consonant, but in this case makes a vowel sound).

Contractions

Contractions (e.g., “you’ll,” “I’m,” “won’t”) are considered informal in business writing, however, when used sparingly, they make the writing sound more natural, personable, friendly and youthful. The Associated Press Stylebook states, “Avoid excessive use of contractions. However, contractions listed in the dictionary are acceptable in informal contexts where they reflect the way a phrase commonly appears in speech or writing.”

Beginning or ending sentences with a preposition

Beginning or ending a sentence with a preposition (e.g., “and,” “but,” “on”) is considered informal in business writing. However, it’s become routine – and when done sparingly, can make the writing sound more natural, personable, friendly and youthful.

When to capitalize

Many amateur writers feel capitalized words look more impressive, which can lead to text that includes random capitalizations, turning even simple sentences and paragraphs into a jumble of upper and lowercase letters. To guard against this, the Associated Press Stylebook dictates that the names of job titles, programs and departments be written all-lowercase.

An exception: When the person’s title immediately precedes their name, the title should be capitalized (e.g. “Chief Executive Joe Bender”).

Other capitalization rules:

  • Capitalize the names of physical areas only if those titles are widely accepted (e.g., “South Side Chicago,” “Near East,” “Wild West”). Otherwise, use lowercase (e.g., “north Seattle,” “west Seattle”).
  • Don’t capitalize words such as “city,” “state,” “federal,” “government” or “national” when they’re used as modifiers (e.g., “federal regulations,” “state government”).
  • Don’t capitalize seasons (e.g., “winter,” “spring,” “summer,” “fall”).
  • When a complete sentence follows a colon, capitalize the first word in the sentence. If it’s an incomplete sentence, do not capitalize the first word.
  • Refer to the latest version of Webster’s New World Dictionary for guidance on the capitalization of specific words.

When to use a comma

The rules regarding comas are confounding. The Associated Press Stylebook includes two pages of rules and examples regarding their usage.

The situation that trips-up most people, is how to use commas when listing a series of things. The Chicago Style Manual says that a comma should be included before the conjunctions “and” and “or.” However, the Associated Press Stylebook (the recommended resource) states you should not include that final comma:

  • RECOMMENED: Red, white and blue.
  • NOT RECOMMENDED: Red, white, and blue.

When to use a comma between adjectives is another tripping point for many people. The answer: If the word “and” could be inserted between the adjectives without changing the sense, that means it’s okay to include a comma between them.

  • CORRECT: “Both options offer their own unique benefits.”
  • INCORRECT: “Both options offer their own, unique benefits.”

Bulleted statements

All the statements in a bulleted list should either end with a period or not end with a period. It’s incorrect to have some end with a period and some not. Play it safe: always include a period.

Hyphenating words

Hyphenating words to form compound words and phrases is, as the AP Stylebook states, “Optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion.”

Using quote marks

In general, avoid using quote marks, because they’re often unnecessary and jarring to the reader. Legitimate uses include:

  • When quoting the exact words spoken by a person.
  • For nicknames.
  • For terms unfamiliar to the reader (but only the first time that term is used in the document; all other references to the term should be written without quote marks).
  • For all book titles; computer game titles; movie titles; radio and TV show titles; magazine, newspaper and newsletter titles; and the titles of lectures and speeches (e.g., I am the author of “Buy a House with No Money Down”).

When you do use quote marks, there are specific style rules regarding any associated punctuation:

  • Periods and commas always go inside the quote marks.
  • Colons, semi-colons, dashes, question marks and exclamation points go inside the quote marks only if they’re part of the quoted matter (spoken by the person, or part of a formal name) and outside the quote marks in all other cases.

Abbreviations and acronyms

As the Associated Press Stylebook states, regarding abbreviations and acronyms: “In general, avoid alphabet soup. And do not use abbreviations or acronyms that the reader would not quickly recognize.”

Unfortunately, there is no universal rule regarding periods within abbreviations and acronyms. Some include periods, some do not. The only true guide is Webster’s New World Dictionary. In general, however, the AP Stylebook advises, “Omit periods in acronyms unless the results would spell an unrelated word.”

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