In 10th grade, my English teacher went rogue and decided to deviate from the curriculum and teach us grammar for two weeks. That pretty much sums up my direct grammar training prior to university. When I started my doctoral studies, I felt that I was a decent writer, but I lacked confidence when it came to understanding grammar. In this post, I will walk you through my top 6 resources for improving grammar (for the English language).
Am I perfect at grammar? No. I am sure this website contains some grammatical missteps. Still, I strive to constantly improve my understanding of the English language.
Furthermore, different countries and regions have their own common practices regarding English and I am not advocating that one is better than the other. As part of my grammatical self-education, I wanted to learn the logic, history, and variety surrounding certain aspects of grammar. Why? In addition to improving clarity, having this understanding allows me to have better stylistic control over my writing choices.
Grammarly is a digital grammar checker. It’s commonly used as a plugin in your browser or in Microsoft Word. I love using Grammarly to detect mistakes I make when writing e-mails or blog posts. I really appreciate the explanations that are provided. This feature has helped me identify certain not-so-ideal writing habits and adjust them.
I do use the Microsoft Word plugin from time to time and it has been helpful. I feel like the grammar suggestions in Word have decreased over the years. Perhaps, this is to encourage users to upgrade and pay for the Premium version.
Grammarly is powerful, but it isn’t perfect. In many cases, especially for academic writing, Grammarly misunderstood the context of a sentence and provided incorrect feedback. I wouldn’t suggest blindly accepting every correction and it’s important to take the time to review the explanations that Grammarly provides surrounding its suggested edits. Nonetheless, Grammarly is a great resource for catching a good amount of grammar mistakes.
Great for: Catching grammatical mistakes in e-mails and explaining why.
2. Writing Groups
In a previous post about starting to write the dissertation, I suggested finding colleagues who are in a similar stage of the writing process. To put it more succinctly, this is a writing group. Writing groups can be an excellent source of support and accountability as you complete writing projects. Some of the feedback you get on drafts from other group members can improve your grammar.
In the past for more final drafts, I have asked my writing group to just focus on grammar and the feedback was super helpful. Furthermore, writing groups can be a great source for posing grammar questions, especially if the answer isn’t revealed by Google. Since everyone likely has different levels of grammar, you might get varying suggestions or responses to your writing and questions. Don’t be discouraged. This is a strong starting point to find an answer and work towards improving your grammar.
Great for: People with consistent or long-term writing projects looking for support and a feedback community with minimal monetary costs.
3. University Writing Centers
This resource is mainly directed at undergraduates, though this resource could also be useful for graduate students. Many universities have ‘Writing Centers’ where students can take drafts of term papers or other pieces of writing and get one-on-one feedback. This is a great venue in which to pose grammar questions, figure out the grammatical missteps you commonly make, and to get explanations.
Since you are usually required to make an appointment, those who need clear deadlines and measures of accountability might find this resource particularly useful. The quality of Writing Centers and the writing tutors provided can greatly vary, but it is still worth checking out.
Great for: Students wanting one-on-one feedback for a specific piece of writing.
4. Writing Tutor
In the summer between my 3rd and 4th year of my doctoral program, I decided to hire a writing tutor. It was one of the best decisions I made as a graduate student. Anytime you hire a tutor for anything, it’s super important to outline your expectations and understand what the other person can offer you.
I appreciated that my writing tutor was also in my field because she really understood the content I was creating. More importantly, I liked the set-up of our sessions, which was split between reviewing my writing and dedicated grammar practice.
What constituted dedicated grammar practice? This ranged from reading and discussing sections from grammar writing books to completing grammar exercises based on targeted areas where I needed the most work. Of course, I could read books and complete exercises on my own, but I appreciated having a tutor identify the areas where I needed the most improvement and keeping me accountable.
Great for: People who want to invest in tailored grammar instruction to target and improve upon specific areas.
There is a wide range of books out there to help you improve your grammar. The key question to ask is, “What do you want out of a grammar book?”
Do you want a reference-type book to clarify certain rules? Do you want a workbook where you can make your way through exercises? Or do you want something along the lines of a novel that you can read from cover to cover and pick up grammar insights?
All these types of books exist (and more!). If you’re not sure what you want, I highly recommend going to your local library or bookstore and perusing the available grammar to get a better idea of what you might want. Looking online at Amazon book previews also works.
Personally, I read William Zissner’s classic ‘On Writing Well‘ in high school and I appreciated the storytelling used to explain aspects of grammar. My writing tutor recommended Anne Stilman’s ‘Grammatically Correct‘ and I found to be an excellent comprehensive, yet concise, reference on grammar.
Great for: Almost anyone (depending on one’s specific needs).
Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl podcast provides accessible and short (normally around 10-15 minutes) podcasts. I love how she explains (when possible) the origin and evolution of certain parts of grammar. If you’re an auditory learner, you will really like this podcast. If you listening to podcasts, it’s a well-produced program that offers enriching and succinct content. I learned a lot about grammar by listening to her podcasts and I definitely think it’s worth checking out.
Great for: People who want to listen and learn about grammar in small doses.
Are you going to try out one of the above resources? Do you already have a resource you love that you want to share? Let me know in the comments below!