Writing eTips UpWrite Press - We Make Writing Work For You
May 2008 UpWrite Press - We Make Writing Work For You

There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft.

—Jessamyn West

Word Pair of the Month: can, may

This month’s word pair are often misused, and while the mix-up doesn’t cause any real problems, being correct has its benefits!

Just remember that the word can implies the ability to do something, while the word may asks or gives permission.

I can bench-press 800 pounds. May I show you?


You may try, but I don’t think you can do it.

Good grammar is like good manners: Your readers may excuse you for a blunder, but they will still be affected by it. Your writing will always leave an impression, so try to make it a good one.

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May Writers’ Forum Topic

How’s your spelling? If you are a terrific speller, how did you get that way? To what do you attribute this gift? And if you’re a poor speller, how do you make sure that your writing is error free—especially when it comes to words that sound alike but are spelled differently, the mistakes spell-checkers miss?

Our May forum brought a flurry of responses from the good spellers out there!

Deborah Cook, a training specialist with the Texas Workforce Commission, credits a solid education for her spelling skills:

In school, I always excelled at spelling.…I believe the drills and spelling tests in elementary and later schooling really helped my ability to spell. Phonetics was also taught in my early years. This helps me sound out a word.…If I am not sure, I use the spell-checker and/or check a dictionary.

Linda J. Chumley, of the Idaho National Laboratory, also credits schooling for honing her spelling abilities:

I have always been a terrific speller because I really loved spelling when I was in school. It was one of my favorite subjects. It makes me cringe to see words spelled wrong. I probably became a terrific speller because I studied hard before every spelling test. I always wanted to get a 100% on my spelling papers.

Mary Jo Denman, PP, PLS, NALS past president, and NALS Foundation trustee, points to reading as a way to absorb good spelling skills.

This one’s easy! I was a voracious reader as a child and always excelled in spelling. There’s no doubt in my mind that early training by the good Mercy nuns helped, too. Though I no longer have the luxury of seemingly endless reading time, my 35+ years as a legal assistant and my ongoing legal education through NALS…the association for legal professionals…keeps me up to date with grammar and spelling.

Beverly Scruggs, an operations assistant with PSNC Energy in Gastonia, NC, also credits personal reading habits with boosting her spelling skills.

I have to say I feel very confident in my spelling skills. I attribute this to the fact that I have been an avid reader since I was young. Reading a variety of materials, often, is one of the best ways to increase your spelling skills.

Beverly suggests asking someone else to check your work, as fresh eyes often find errors you might miss. She adds this thought:

My managers and peers at work often turn to me with spelling and grammar questions when they are writing. (They have other strengths that I don’t have, so I’m happy to help them this way.)

All these answers suggest that good spellers are made, not born, and that practicing spelling, and reading extensively, are good ways to boost your abilities. The bottom line is simply this: Excellent spelling requires continued work and the willingness to look up words you are uncertain about.

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Coming in June:
Using Modifiers Correctly
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