12 Most Common Writing Mistakes You Want to Avoid at All Costs
Nobody expects you to be perfect all the time. However, there are some really glaring writing mistakes that when done repeatedly can seriously undermine your credibility, reputation and personal brand.
But many of these mistakes are easy to avoid. For instance, misspelled words, excessive exclamation points and the overuse of emoji are frequent writing errors in emails that are easy fixes, according to Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach.
Is it really worth checking every single document for writing errors? Yes, according to Timothy Harper, writing coach and editor of CUNY Journalism Press. "The whole point of grammar and punctuation is clarity.”
Click through these 12 slides to learn more about the most common writing mistakes and how to correct them.Related Video: 10 Words to Cut From Your Writing
You use industry buzzwords that are hackneyed and phony.
There are common buzzwords in any given industry that lose impact and meaning due to overuse or overexposure. Some of the most overused buzzwords in business are: innovative, transformative, thought leadership and revolutionary.
Do these words have authentic impact if everyone is using them?
When composing an email, prospectus, business plan, article or pitch, use buzzwords sparingly. Instead, take the time to write a clear explanation or argument using supportive studies, research, numbers and benefits.
You assume the reader knows the acronyms or identity of the people you mention.
Don’t assume the reader knows your world as intimately as you do. Having to stop and look up an acronym is disruptive and puts the burden of research on the reader.
You overuse CAPS and punctuation.
"People sometimes get carried away and put a number of exclamation points at the end of their sentences. The result can appear too emotional or immature," writes Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette. "Exclamation points should be used sparingly in writing."
The same goes for the capitalization of words for emphasis. The practice reads like the writer is shouting. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, use that sparing exclamation point. Or find another way.
You compose overly complicated, overly abstract or flowery writing.
You know that writing acronym KISS? It stands for “Keep it simple, stupid.” It means that complicated and high-brow writing doesn’t necessarily equate good writing -- particularly if you lose the attention of the reader.
Keep sentence construction simple, ground your abstract ideas in clear examples and use vocabulary that the majority of readers would understand.
Related: Top 10 Business Plan Mistakes
You mix single objects with plural pronouns or single subjects with plural verbs.
This is a common writing mistake, but the object and pronoun need to match in singularity or plurality.
Incorrect: Baby Silas is really enjoying their bath.
Correct: Baby Silas is really enjoying his bath.
A related mistake is when a single subject is paired with a plural verb. Again, the subject and verb need to match in singularity and plurality.
Incorrect: The president and the rest of his staff is spending the afternoon at Camp David.
Correct: The president and the rest of his staff are spending the afternoon at Camp David.
Something to note is that gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. zie, zim, zir, zis) are growing in use. However, they’re not currently the norm in the majority of business writing and correspondence. If a client, colleague or audience prefers the use of gender-neutral pronouns, be sure to learn more information about how to use them. Also, when writing, clarify that you’re using gender-neutral pronouns to your audience. Don’t assume they already know.Related: 10 Mistakes Content Marketers Make (And How To Avoid Them)
You make one of these common mix-ups.
Here is a list of common word mix-ups:
Between/Among: Use between when you are talking about distinct, individual items. Use among when you are talking about a group or a collective.
Less/Fewer: If you can count it, use fewer. If you can’t, use less.
Then/Than: Use then to show time sequence. Use than to compare two things.
Loose/Lose: Loose is about fit or size. Lose is when there is a loss experienced.
That/Which: That introduces an essential clause. Which introduces a nonessential clause.
Who/whom: Use who when the person is doing the action. Use whom when the action is being done to the person.
Irregardless/Regardless: Irregardless is not a real word. You mean to use regardless.
Compose/Comprise: Use compose when you mean “made up.” Example: She composed a letter. Comprise means “to contain.” Example: The letter was comprised of many interesting facts.
You make vague claims.
Making vague claims, such as “It’s a well-known fact...” or “Everywhere you look...“ is general and weak. You need to qualify or quantify your claims with specificity and supporting data. Write an argument like you’re in a court of law.
Anchor your claim in specifics, such as: “Eighty percent of Americans acknowledge that their shopping habits are transitioning toward ecommerce from brick-and-mortar over the last five years, according to 2017 research from Visa."
You slip into slang.
Stuff. Things. Yada yada. Blah blah. Dude. Gurl. Remember, you’re at work, so while emails should aim to be conversational, they should also be professional. Slang conveys familiarity with friends and family. However, at work, it can instantly lower your perceived IQ, professionalism and maturity.
You’re working with multiple generations at work, and you really don’t know who your email will be forwarded to, so de-slang your correspondence now.
You use unprofessional-looking font.
Banish that sloppy-looking Comic Sans font. Also, avoid using weird colors. Stick to neutral classics in font and color: Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica in black.
You make frequent and immature spelling mistakes.
It’s easy for spelling errors to happen when you’re using your smartphone to compose emails or documents on the go. However, if possible, it’s worth taking the time to slow down and read aloud what you’ve composed before sharing or sending.
Or wait until you’re back in front of a computer to use spell check.
Some common spelling mix ups:
Principal/principle: adjective or noun: someone or something first in rank/noun: a fundamental truth, law or doctrine.
There/they’re/their: shows location/contraction for “they are”/shows possession
Your/You’re: shows possession/contraction for “you are”
Its/it’s: shows possession/contraction for “it is”
Effect/affect: usually a noun meaning “results” or “outcome”/verb meaning “having an effect or influence” or “putting on a pretense”
Except/accept: shows exclusion/verb meaning “to receive” or “being allowed to take or hold”
A lot/alot: means “many”/“alot” is not a real word
You use quotes incorrectly.
In American English (unlike British English), quotes nearly always go outside of punctuation. (Repeat: Punctuation inside. Quotes outside.)
Incorrect: The chief finance officer’s final thoughts are,“The last quarter was the most promising yet with no signs of slowing down”.
Correct: The chief finance officer’s final thoughts are,“The last quarter was the most promising yet with no signs of slowing down.”
You start a sentence with a numeral.
Don't start off a sentence with a numeral, according to two major style guides, the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook. Instead, spell out the number.
Correct example: One hundred years ago, the city didn't exist.
The exception is if you are starting the sentence with a year, and you are using the AP Stylebook as your guide. Under these two conditions, it is correct to write: "1976 was a good year."