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Affect vs. effect confusion? Nevermore.

Learning when to use “affect” and when to use “effect” can be a challenge, so here are some shortcuts that will get you through nearly all of the instances you encounter.

Tips

1. RAVEN: Remember, affect is a verb and effect is a noun (most of the time).

Example: The storm will affect attendance.

Look for the verb in the sentence. If the verb is affect, spell it with an “a” (in most cases).

2. Spot the following phrases and use an “e”:

  • Have an effect on
  • The effect of
  • Go into effect, take effect

If you see these words or if you could fit them into the sentence without disrupting the sentence flow, use “effect,” as pointed out this week by Shannon Brophy, one of my students. The Snarky Student’s Guide to Grammar also describes this point and has other grammar posts worth exploring.

“Effect” is used with “effect on,” “effect of,” and “goes into effect” because “effect” refers to a consequence or result, whereas “affect” means “to influence.” (See Grammar Girl for more discussion about the definitions.)

Example: The storm will have an effect on attendance.

The next example shows that if you can fill in “on” or “of” after the word, you still use “effect.”

Example: The storm will have an effect [on attendance].

Example: The effect of the storm is unknown.

Example: The weather policy will take effect this week.

Exceptions

1. “Effect” can be used as a verb to refer to “bringing about” or “accomplishing,” as described by Purdue’s Online Writing Lab and Vocabulary.com. Nevertheless, it’s a clumsy use of “effect” that you should avoid anyway.

Acceptable: The agency will attempt to effect change through its weather policy.

Better: The agency will attempt to improve its predictions through its weather policy.

2. “Affect” can be used as a noun to refer to emotion. When you see this use of the word, it’s likely an academic setting, a psychology context or both.

For example, when I studied at the University of Maryland, I worked with Monique Mitchell Turner (now at Mpact Communications), who studied the role of affect (emotion) on persuasion. Her line of research can be used to provide insight into whether PSAs are more effective during comedy programming or during drama programming.

Practice Sentences

1. The bleak December had an (affect/effect) on Edgar Allan Poe.

2. The rapping at the chamber door (affected/effected) him.

3. The silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain (affected/effected) him.

4. The (affect/effect) of the raven was maddening.

5. The policy to keep the shutters closed takes (affect/effect) tomorrow.

Answers

1. effect (See “effect on,” rule No. 2.)

2. affected (Remember “affect” is nearly always a verb.)

3. affected (Remember “affect” is nearly always a verb.)

4. effect (See “the effect of,” rule No. 2.)

5. effect (See “takes effect,” rule No. 2.)

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It's difficult to adequately proof without printing your work.

To prepare for success in a public relations job, it’s imperative to develop the ability to catch basic errors before submitting work to a boss. After all, how can a supervisor promote you if you can’t be trusted to adequately proof your work?

Examples of basic errors include missing words, quotation marks facing the wrong way, missing periods and spelling errors. These are errors that someone in junior high should be able to catch.

If your public relations professor penalizes harshly for typos, consider it tough love. As John Mitchell says, “I have zero tolerance for spelling errors…It’s tough love, but they’ll appreciate it later. Hear it all the time from the initiated.”

Grading rubric
In my writing classes, I grade work based on content, organization and writing mechanics, and I allow students to rewrite their work for an averaged grade. For the writing mechanics part, I apply the following rubric:

A: 1-3 minor errors

B: 4-7 minor errors

C: 8-11 errors, which could include one basic error (such as a spelling error)

D: 12-15 errors, which could include two basic errors

F: 16+ errors

Minor errors refer to mistakes such as comma placement and parallel structure.

I asked public relations practitioners on the #prprofs hashtag about how they penalize for typos.

  • Tina McCorkindale at Appalachian State University lowers a grade to a C for the first spelling error and lowers it to an F for the second spelling error; however, misspelling a client’s name is an automatic F. Deductions for grammar depend on the frequency of the problems.
  • Ginger Carter Miller at Georgia College deducts 10 percent for a spelling error and 2 percent for minor corrections.
  • Richard Waters at North Carolina State University takes off 10 points for a spelling error.

Other public relations professors, feel free to share how you treat typos.

Why catching basic errors is important
I posted a question about why proofing matters to my Facebook page and received insightful comments from former students.

“Aside from the fact that your writing represents you and your organization, spelling errors (and grammar/punctuation errors for that matter) are simply careless. And, I would bet that most people wouldn’t categorize themselves as careless. And, tell them to appreciate that you are correcting them now because if they accept it and actually learn from it, then they will be better off in the long run.

In the end, you want to become the person that others come to for reviews/edits of their work and be known as the one who writes things that never need edits.” — Michelle Betrock, publicist, the Food Network and Cooking Channel, New York.

“Attention to detail takes on a whole new meaning when you’re just starting out — and working to not only establish yourself as a professional but also to separate yourself from your peers. People — more importantly, bosses — take note and do remember.

Just like any habit, once it sticks, you’re set — and it only happens after repeated effort and being held to high standards time and time again. Your students may not like it NOW, but I can guarantee that they will be thanking you later, when the quality of their work sets them apart and brings them big rewards.” — Kristen Bothwell, senior account executive, Rubenstein Communications, New York.

How to catch basic errors

  1. Slowly proof a printed copy of your work, preferably the next day. Some people like reading aloud, and some people like to read in reverse order, from the last sentence to the first sentence.
  2. Don’t write in all CAPS when you are writing a headline because spell check does not check all caps words (tip from Michelle Betrock). You can always change words to all CAPS later if you need to do so by going to format and font and then checking the box for “all CAPS.”
  3. Have a friend read your work with fresh eyes to specifically proof for basic errors. In the professional world, this would be the equivalent of having a co-worker proof your work before you submit your work to a supervisor.

Michelle also offered the following advice:

“Tell your students to read ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves.’ Also, I always teach people to write AND edit ON PURPOSE. What I mean by that is this: Don’t just write something mindlessly and haphazardly; each time you type a letter, word, punctuation — be sure it’s the right one.”

Here are some resources for catching minor errors:

Readers, what are your favorite proofing tips? Public relations professors, feel free to also share how you penalize for basic errors.

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