Language Primer: Basics of Grammar and Word Use (Assignment Editors Spring 2018)

Course Overview

Language Primer: Basics of Grammar and Word Use (Assignment Editors Spring 2018)
Self-Directed Course
Time Estimate:
4-5 hours

This course is for participants of Poynter TV Assignment Editor Workshop only.

About Self-Directed Courses

In a self-directed course, you can start and stop whenever you like, progressing entirely at your own pace and going back as many times as you want to review the material.

The "Language Primer" focuses on the fundamentals, giving you unlimited access to essays, practice drills and feedback. When you're ready, take the "final exams" for each section to see how much you've learned.

This edition of the course has been created for participants in the Poynter Producer Project, a blended learning seminar.

Want to integrate this course into your newsroom? Contact us at We can create a special edition of this course for you. As a bonus, you'll get access to an Instructor Dashboard, giving you access to assessment scores.

What Will I Learn:

This course covers the rules and principles of grammar, punctuation and word use in the English language. It specifically addresses the following topics:

  • Dangling and misplaced modifiers
  • The case of personal pronouns such as "I" and "me"
  • Sentence structure concepts, including active and passive voice, sentence fragments and subject-verb agreement
  • Essential and non-essential clauses
  • General word usage
  • Special focus on "to/too/two" and "they're/their/there"

A special thanks to the educators and professional editors who have contributed practice drills, activities and usage guidelines for this course. They include: Andy Bechtel, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Mark Allen, a journalist for more than 20 years, reporting, copy editing and leading special projects and a 180,000-circulation Sunday edition; and Sue Burzynski Bullard, who teaches editing, reporting and multimedia at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Who should take this course:

This course is for anyone who struggles with the basics of English grammar and word usage. It also can be used as a review of the fundamentals or to diagnose and correct specific problems.

Course Instructors:

Roy Peter Clark

Roy Peter Clark is vice president and senior scholar at The Poynter Institute, where he has taught writing since 1979. He is the author of the book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer and course on Poynter's NewsU The Writer's Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use, and the book The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English. His latest work includes the book Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces, companion course on Poynter's NewsU, Help! for Writers and mobile app Help! for Writers. He is part of the one-day workshop, The Writing Process, offered through Poynter's NewsU. He also blogs and chats about writing tools on You can follow him on Twitter at @RoyPeterClark.

His newest book is How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times.

Merrill Perlman

Merrill Perlman is a consultant who works with news organizations, private companies and journalism organizations, specializing in editing and the English language. She spent 25 years at The New York Times in jobs ranging from copy editor to director of copy desks, in charge of all 150-plus copy editors at The Times. She is an adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and writes the Language Corner column for the Columbia Journalism Review. Merrill is a recipient of the Glamann Award from the American Copy Editors Society. She was a reporter for four years before becoming an editor.

Pam Hogle

Pamela Hogle is a freelance writer and editor. She holds master’s degrees in journalism and canine studies. Pam has taught editing at USFSP and worked as a copy editor at The Jerusalem Report and as a technical and marketing writer for NDS Technologies.

Training Partner:

Marquette University - Diederich College of Communication

The College of Communication advances knowledge and prepares students for intellectual, artistic, professional, and ethical leadership in a complex technological and multi-cultural world. The College uses a core of common knowledge, values and communication skills to improve understanding of communication as a cultural and social process and to develop the skills necessary for success in constantly changing information environments.