Even the best of writers and editors need help with writing sometimes. We all have our own weak spots, such as remembering when to use “its” and when to use “it’s.” Some have difficulty in understanding when to use “eighteenth century” and when to use “eighteenth-century.” Fortunately, the number of tools to assist writers is growing.
I recently came across another great helper, Grammar Grater. Luke Taylor and the “Grammatis Personae Players”™ present regular podcasts on Minnesota Public Radio. Episodes have dealt with the difference between affect and effect, proper use of the ellipsis, and — one of my major complaints — the proper use of plural nouns (hint: no apostrophe is ever needed for a plural). One episode included a guest lexicographer who discussed how to choose dictionaries and how to properly use them. Grammar Grater podcasts are also available on iTunes.
I have discussed “Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty. Her "Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing" are very helpful. Her podcasts are short yet very informative. Last week she discussed one of the biggest mistakes writers make: the difference between “i.e”. and “e.g.” the Grammar Girl website is clear and easy to use. You can also read transcripts of the podcasts. You can view all podcasts or select individual categories, such as grammar, style, or punctuation. There is even an iPhone app (isn't there an app for everything nowadays?) and her podcasts can be automatically download her podcasts through iTunes.
The number of apps for writing and grammar increases all the time. One interesting app, from American Accent Training, is called Grammar A–Z. Although targeted towards ESL speakers learning English, the rules presented apply to writing as well. In addition to grammar, the app helps with writing, spelling, and punctuation. There are also sections on speaking that include accent, pronunciation, and comprehension. It is available for $9.99.
Be careful when downloading grammar apps and podcasts. Be certain that the grammar applies to your country’s version of the language. For example, English speakers will find a number of grammar apps from Oxford University and other U.K. sources. The rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, however, differ between the U.S. and the U.K., and using these apps could cause you problems if you are not careful.
iTunes University is filled with free courses and podcasts to help you with your writing. You will find top-notch instructors from some leading schools, such as Harvard Extension School, Pace University, Texas A&M University, Penn School of Arts and Sciences, Illinois State University, University of Warwick, Coventry University, and more.
Take advantage of these tools to help you with your writing, and soon you will lose all fear of compiling your family’s history to share with your relatives. And if you are still wondering, “its” is the possessive while “it’s” is a contraction. And “eighteenth century” is a noun while “eighteenth-century” is an adjective.