Do you hate to write? You are definitely not alone. A lot of individuals do. And while it is difficult to name all of the motives individuals dread writing, there’s one common cause: Fear of making a mistake. Of committing some mortal grammar sin which can make you (or me) look as dumb as a sack of potatoes.
We might have good reason to worry. According to the National Commission on Writing, poor writing costs American firms as much as $3.1 billion per year. That’s what we’re spending for on-the-job remedial writing instruction.
I can not save anyone’s writing with only one blog post. But I can show you the very common writing mistakes I see. And please don’t be embarrassed if you learn something from that list. There are a few items here that I’m still trying to get write rite right.
1. “A lot” versus “alot”.
It’s such an easy situation to fix. And yet it still sneaks into too many communications I see. No moderate appears to be untouched — societal media, emails, blog posts, an occasional eBook will game the dreaded”alot.”
Here’s a way to remember:
It’s AOK to utilize a great deal of words if you’re spelling”a lot”.
2. Punctuation in and about quotation marks.
My editor here, Sherry Lamoreaux, pointed this out to me recently. She sent me an email about how she’d been”drifting into inconsistency” within the positioning of punctuation in and around quotations, and wished to tighten her up usage. Ostensibly, she had been sharing advice, but I have been paranoid about creating this (these?) Mistakes since. (.)
So here are the general rules:
For American English, semicolons, colons, and dashes always go beyond the closing quotation mark.
He said,”You can not have that dessert tonight” — then he brought out the pie dish.
Periods and commas always go inside the punctuation marks.
She said,”You can’t be serious” (Note: Can capitalize the first word in an entire quote, no matter where it comes in the sentence.)
The Grammar Girl website guides this memory trick:”Inside the US, inside the quote marks,” — then gives these examples:
“Don’t underestimate me,” she explained with a disarmingly friendly grin.
I can not remember how to spell”bureaucracy.”
Question marks and exclamation points vary, depending on the sentence.
If you’re using the quotes to indicate somebody talking (or to estimate them, of course), the terminal punctuation goes inside, as the quotation marks are suggesting that everything inside them is a quote.
Laura asked,”Who’s that banging on the door?”
On the other hand, if the terminal punctuation is part of this quote — if it applies to the entire sentence — it goes outside the last quotation mark. In this example in the American Psychological Association, the query mark applies to the sentence, not to the quoted material:
How does this study affect participants who stated at the outset,”I never remember my dreams”?
Practitioners of UK English set the quotation marks inside the period or comma, plus they utilize a single quote mark instead of the American double. (More on the UK/US differences.)
‘You Yanks punctuate your quotations strangely’, ” she explained.
According to the Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, part 7.62), once you’re writing about a phrase or words, such as how we discuss”alot” and”much” in our very first segment, it’s favored to italicize the term (like so: ), but it’s okay to use quotation marks instead. When you do, the punctuation should match the rest of your text; that will be, commas and periods should be within the quotation marks, and so on. You might have discovered that we didn’t do this. It’s deliberate. We believe placing the quotation marks inside the punctuation highlights that we are talking about the word.Yes, technically it is wrong, but we think it adds clarity. What do you believe?
3. Composing unbelievably long paragraphs.
It hurts to see long paragraphs on mobile devices, especially mobiles. Know why? Because even those relatively”short” paragraphs on your Word doc eventually become two or three times more when you read them on a phone.
I see too many pages like this in my iPhone:
The source of this article will be withheld in order to avoid embarrassing the offender.
The solution? Keep paragraphs to five lines or less.
4. Composing above a 10th-grade reading level.
Even clever, highly educated individuals prefer plain, easy to comprehend copy. This doesn’t mean we are idle. We are all definitely very busy and very distracted, and nobody would like to read copy that makes you conscious that it requires effort to see it.
Regrettably, only telling you to compose in an 8th-grade level or below may not be terribly valuable.
Here’s the gist of what that needs: Do not create your sentences work so challenging. Consider them like bridges. You do not want to pile on too many phrases and digressions on that simple little bridge. If you do, you’ll break it.
So take a few of the weight from it. Do not make it work harder than it is supposed to. Make it flow, make it easy to swallow and easy to digest. There is no charge for extra sentences. So the next time you find one that’s gone on for more than one line, look for a way to break it in two.
5. Its it’s.
I mentioned this to a fourth-grade teacher . She flew into a fury immediately, exclaiming,”There is an apostrophe crisis in this country!”
Hopefully, apostrophes aren’t enough to actually rile you up, but they are sad to see, and they’re everywhere. (And I think she’s correct, by the way: We have an apostrophe crisis.)
Confusing”it’s” with”its” is common enough online. “It’s” is the abbreviated version of”it’s”. “Its” is possessive.
The zebra picked up its stripes, stating,”It’s no problem. Happens all the time.”
I know… most of the time, with most words, you add an apostrophe + s to make a noun possessive:”the dog’s breakfast”. But contractions have precedence over possessives, it seems.
Out in the world, a widely seen faux pas is adding an apostrophe to create a word plural. So let it be understood: You don’t require an apostrophe to generate something plural. Only the”s” will do.
The problem is so pervasive it even shows up on hints:
6. Mixing tenses.
That is a finer point, but after you know to search for it, you will see it everywhere. A lot people mix up tenses in our paragraphs. We might open the sentence before tense with”She believed” and then almost automatically shut the sentence in present tense.
Appropriate grammar or no, you are able to really do anything that works for the reader. (Especially in fiction. Watch James Joyce, et al.) But usually, mixing tenses doesn’t. It leaves something that feels just like a hanging notice for the reader something’s amiss, but most of them don’t know what. So they just furrow their brows and keep slogging on through these words.
What’s lost is clarity. When are we? Now? Or then?
It goes without mentioning that misspelled words can damage your credibility. But did you know that one typo on your website can cut conversions?
It’s true. At least based on British Online marketer Charles Duncombe. He says he has seen site earnings drop by half from only 1 typo.
Why the drop-off? Trust. If a web site is unfamiliar to the consumer or already looks somewhat dishonest, one typo can make people think it’s a scam. And there are plenty of people online who are utterly paranoid about getting ripped off.
8. “I” versus “me”.
This one’s for me. Or should it be ? Nope, definitely me. Unless I was saying, this one’s for you and I… right?
I get this one wrong all the time. And I’d assumed I was going to make it wrong for the rest of my life, until I discovered this genius picture at a recent Shutterstock blog post:
If there are some freelance editors out there reading this, may I propose this as the best tagline for your business?
The helpful site eLearnEnglishLanguage.com is filled with well-chosen examples and contains an especially clear way of illustrating the I/me issues:
Try out the sentence with just or (or if you need a plural, or “we” is equivalent to”I” and”us” is equivalent to”me”.) :
He advised Tom and (me or I?) To get ready.
He advised I to prepare? NO
He told me to prepare? YES
Therefore, He advised Tom and me to prepare.
If John and (me or I ?) Get married, we will have two children.
If me get married? NO
Should I get married? YES
Therefore, If John and I get married, we’ll have two children.
Just between you and (I or me?) , this is a lousy idea.
Just between we? NO
Just between us? YES
Just between me and you, this is a bad idea.
9. Nominalizations and gerunds, and other fatty words.
Nominalizations are phrases that were pressured to being nouns. It wasn’t their normal condition, and it should not be. As in:
- Interference (from interfere)
- Argument (from argue)
- Chat (from discuss)
- Attraction (from attract)
These are all grammatically correct, but nominalizations are often a red flag of a few of the additional common writing sins: Using the passive voice. Once you understand how to set them, spend the time to rework your sentences so that they become verbs again. Your writing will become more direct and fresh.
Other signs of passive voice are gerunds — whatever that ends with an”ing”. You can’t kill them every time, but attempt to:
- Losing a few gerunds will include clarity and crispness.
- Reduce several gerunds to add clarity and crispness
I used to write for somebody who insisted I never use the phrase”which”. It made for weak writing, he said. It made for a whole lot of rewritten sentences for me. I don’t think it’s wise to completely prohibit the use of”that”, but there are definitely more of them floating about than need be.
This (ha!) Leads well to the philosophical rule of writing that is clear:”Omit needless words”
( . “? !)
10. Internet versus internet.
According to the Associated Press Style Book,”Web” is assumed to be capitalized. At least until June 1st, 2016. After that, capitalizing”Internet” will no longer be accurate.
So there is your reward for reading all of the way towards the end of this article. Come June first, you are able to correct all those silly people still capitalizing”Internet”.
The New York Times The New Yorker
- The world wide web has changed everything.
- It’s an internet device.)
Only so you never have to look them up again, here’s a recap of the ten writing errors:
- Do not use”a lot”. It is”a lot”.
- Periods and commas always go inside the punctuation marks. For question marks and exclamation points, decide whether the question mark or exclamation points are part of this quote, or a portion of the sentence. In the next examples, the terminal punctuation is part of the quote, therefore it stays within the final quotation mark.
- Keep your paragraphs to five lines or less.
- Don’t create your sentences work too difficult. Break up long paragraphs.
- “It’s” is the contraction of “it” and “is”. The possessive –“its own” — has no apostrophe.
- Maintain your verb tenses consistent.
- Simple but important: Don’t misspell words. Utilize a spell-checker or have someone else have a look. We often just don’t sea our own errors.
- Do not be fearful of grammar and I me.
- Prevent nominalizations and other fatty words.
- Following June 1s 2016, you can stop capitalizing the word”Internet.”