Craft cleaner, more effective copy, and avoid the pitfalls associated with error-filled prose. Here’s how real estate agents can hone their writing chops.
Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong reader and writer with a master’s degree in English Literature and almost two decades of experience as an English teacher before I became a copywriter. Yet, there are still grammar rules that I have to look up and remind myself of (like not ending a sentence with a preposition).
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to be a grammar maven to keep your writing clean and clear. You just need to master a few of the most common grammar issues and understand how to refine your real estate writing skills for marketing and communication.
Let this guide be a starting point for your to evaluate your own writing and find out what you need to brush up on or refine.
Common grammar mistakes — and how to fix them
As an English teacher, I didn’t believe in handing back an essay drenched in red ink, marking every single error in a student’s paper. Instead, I wrote at the top: Doing these two things will immediately improve your writing. Then, I would only mark the instances of those two errors wherever they occurred.
As a student progressed throughout the year, they would correct those common errors, and I would begin identifying others. This created a plan for systematic improvement rather than overwhelming the student with too many corrections.
We all have our individual pet peeves — those writing errors that make us cringe. Unfortunately, we also all have our own grammatical blind spots — errors that we make over and over, especially if we’re tired or in a hurry.
The first step in refining your writing is to identify those errors you make the most and proofread just for those. Proofreading shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Proofread once for spelling, once for your most common errors, once aloud for flow and redundancies.
Not sure what errors you’re making? Consider working with a copyeditor or writerly friend who can help you identify your frequent slip-ups. In addition, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Don’t rely on spellcheck or grammar fixers exclusively
It is great to run spellcheck before you submit a piece of writing or hit Send on an email, but these can only go so far. If you have used the wrong word but spelled it correctly, spellcheck won’t really help you.
For example, If I write “Gorgeous interior sputters and custom window treatments throughout” in a property description, spellcheck may not see the problem. That’s because “sputters” is a real word, even though it’s not the one I intended.
Remember, spellcheck and grammar checkers are tools, not the whole plan for refining and editing your writing.
2. Read backwards to catch spelling mistakes
When you’ve been working on a piece of writing for a while, your brain starts to fill in the blanks, reading on autopilot and overlooking errors.
If you want to catch spelling errors or other mistakes, read backwards. This will take away the context and allow you to look at words individually, catching more mistakes along the way.
3. Know your conjunctions
One of the most common mistakes I see online involves errors related to conjunctions, including its/it’s, your/you’re, and there/their/they’re. The confusion arises with the apostrophe, which usually indicates possession but in these cases indicates a conjunction — the joining of two words together.
- Its indicates possession while it’s is a conjunction for it is or it has.
- Your indicates possession, while you’re is a conjunction for you are.
For there, their and they’re, remember the following:
- There indicates location and is a matching set with here.
- Their indicates possession and contains the word heir, one who receives or possesses an inheritance.
- They’re is a conjunction for they are.
4. Master possessive vs. plural
Flip the script when you’re making nouns possessive by adding an apostrophe-s. To make a word plural, add -s or -es in most cases.
For example, clients with an -s indicates that you have a number of clients (plural). Client’s with an apostrophe-s indicates possession (the client’s house, the client’s email).
5. Watch out for homophones
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Here are some of the homophones that frequently cause problems for writers.
- Affect/effect: In most cases, affect is a verb or action word while effect is a noun. That means that you use affect to indicate action (His words affected her.) You can remember that because both of them start with an A. By contrast, effect is the result of the action (His words had an effect on her.)
- Than/then: Than indicates a comparison (She is smarter than I am.) while then indicates sequence (That happened first, then this happened afterwards.)
- Accept/except: Accept is a verb or action word that indicates that someone is receiving something (I am happy to accept the award.) while except is a preposition that excludes. (Everyone is getting an award except the new guy.)
Remember, you don’t have to know why a grammar rule applies. You just have to know that it does. You don’t have to correct for every type of error. You just have to hone in on the errors you make most often and master those rules. Adopt a growth mindset toward your writing, and keep working to improve and polish it.
Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.