5 Grammar Tips for Social Media

Thanks, Ryan

IMHO, social media has gained such popularity because it is easy and quick; it doesn’t require a lot of time or thought. We can connect instantly to our friends and followers, sharing our photos of healthy juice or tidbits of daily inspiration. This ease of use is exactly what makes it fun, too. More and more, however, social media is being used as a professional platform — whether we are promoting our own product, networking for jobs and recognition, or following someone else’s profile for that purpose. Whatever the reason, our social media presence likely gets attention for both work and play. Especially if you are in a profession that involves a lot of writing (like law) you want to make sure the written element of your public persona is on point. Regardless of your field though, a little brush up on punctuation never hurt. So, here are some grammar and style tips for social media.

1. Remember the difference between a colon ( : ) and a semicolon ( ; )

These punctuation tools can be very useful when you are trying to keep your piece of sage advice below 140 characters. Both can replace words and connect ideas, while still providing the same meaning. However, you look slightly less wise if you’re using them improperly.

The colon is used after an independent clause (a group of words that contains both a subject and a predicate that can stand alone as a complete sentence) to introduce a list, a quotation, an appositive or an explanation.

   A strong social media following requires a few things: consistency, creativity and a clear message.

The semicolon can link closely related independent clauses and separate items in a series when one or more of those items has internal punctuation.

It is a common mistake for the semicolon to be used as a colon. I’ve seen this more than once:

   Remember; follow your heart. 

Instead, a semicolon should be used to connect ideas:

         This article illustrates strong journalism skills; it is well researched and clearly structured.

2. Diversify your sentence structure

    “Brunching with this babe.”

    “Chilling in the sun with this hottie.”

Gerund + with + overused diminutive

How many times have we seen this?! 

3. Commas aren’t confetti- don’t throw them around 

The comma is one of the most common yet misused forms of punctuation.  As many style books will tell you, it is used to either separate or set off.

To separate

A comma is used before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so aka FANBOYS) joining independent clauses:

      Blogging takes a lot more time than you expect, so make sure you set a realistic schedule for posts.

The comma also separates three or more items in a series:

  To start the day right, I need coffee, coffee, and more coffee.

To set off

A comma is also used to “set off” introductory elements:

  Thankfully, the subway delay didn’t make me late for my interview.

 When your video reaches a certain number of views, Youtube starts paying you!

In addition, commas are used to set off nonrestrictive elements: an addition to a sentence that adds information but is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

 The Law Practice Program, despite not being a perfect solution to the articling crisis, is a decent option for some licensing candidates.

Commas can also set off transition expressions, contrasting elements, parenthetical expressions, and explanations.

Kale and spinach, for example, are two veggies that hipsters have appropriated.

When you are addressing a person or group directly, or asking a question, commas should also be used.

 Happy Birthday, beautiful!

 Like my page, would you please?

4. That vs which

Briefly, the word “that” is used in a sentence with a restrictive clause and is not preceded by a comma. In contrast, the word “which” follows a comma in a sentence with a nonrestrictive clause.

A restrictive clause is the part of a sentence that adds information essential to the meaning.

OMG! The program that I desperately want to get into is no longer accepting applications. Ugh.

A nonrestrictive clause adds information that is not necessary to the sentence (the meaning of the sentence would have be understood without it).

OMG. The program at Osgoode, which is being taught by a former professor of mine, is no longer accepting applications.       

5. Don’t confuse an ellipsis ( … ) for a period ( . )

I think this is a pretty obvious one and a mistake some consciously make simply because it’s easy. Still, here’s a little refresher on the proper use of ellipses in case high school English class seems far away.

In academic writing, an ellipsis replaces the omission of words from a quotation. This is likely not how people use it in an Instagram caption, however. This form of punctuation also marks a pause or hesitation:

He said to me, “I’m just… I’m simply not sure.”

Sometimes the ellipsis can be overused though, creating a massive run on sentence separated by multiple “…”.

So…this top is on sale now… you should totally buy it…go to the link in our profile and check it out… CRAZY deals right now!

From a professional standpoint, this might come off as a bit lazy. A period (quite a handy little thing) indicates the end of a sentence.

In sum

These tips might seem a bit nit-picky to some (not everyone enjoys grammar lessons as much as I do), but they may be a reminder of rules forgotten. Are there any particular elements of grammar that confuse you or punctuation points you just never figured out? Leave a comment and the answer will appear in the next Grammar Tip post!

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