Ever worry about the quality of your writing, whether it’s “good enough” for public consumption?
I’ll bet you do.
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Lately, however, you find yourself writing more than ever.
And because you’re writing and publishing more often, this self-doubt seems to be growing, taking on a life of its own.
On your best days, you can handle it, dismissing it as a predictable part of your writing life.
On your bad days, unfortunately, it becomes paralyzing. You find yourself unable to click the publish button, scanning the text over and over for typos or grammatical errors.
You keep telling yourself that you’re not after perfection. In fact, you know most writers are far from perfect. You encounter errors in almost everything you read.
And you embrace human frailty. You don’t think anyone should be held to impossible standards. You’ve done your best to sort through the best and the worst writing advice.
But there’s something else at work here, something bigger than exposing a few minor flaws.
And you hate to admit it.
Admitting it makes you feel vulnerable and hopeless.
The bottom line?
You’re afraid of looking stupid.
You’d do almost anything to avoid being that guy or that girl (including keeping your work unpublished)!
You know the person I’m talking about: the boss who emails the whole company without consulting his spell check, the supervisor who writes like a third grader, the rookie blogger or novelist churning out crap.
While you can’t count on perfection, you can avoid some of the common landmines, those errors that make you look unprofessional, uneducated, or worse…
Here’s the list…
Let’s start with homophones, those words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings.
They’re, Their, There
When you mix up these words, your computer software won’t always catch it.
“They’re” is a contraction meaning “they are.” “Their” is a possessive pronoun.
If you can replace it with “our,” you have the right word. “There” refers to a place.
If the sentence is grammatically correct if you replace the word with “here,” you’ve got it right.
This is a common mistake, even among the pros. Sometimes it just comes out.
“Then” is used to situate or order actions across time.
Finish your dinner, and then you may have dessert.
I ate breakfast. Then I left for work. You may also use it in “if, then” constructions. (example: If I don’t study for my test, then I might fail.)
Than is used in comparisons.
My cat is smarter than your dog.
Could of/Should of/Would of
Although this is how it might sound when we speak, it is never correct to use “of” instead of “have” in these phrases.
The problem comes from contractions: could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve.
We confuse the combined versions with their original, complete forms.
The correct forms are “could have,” “should have” and “would have.” Keep these in mind when you write.
These errors look terrible on the page.
I Could Care Less…
To say, “I could care less,” means exactly that – you are able to care less.
Many people use this to mean, “I couldn’t care less,” a phrase used to express apathy.
If someone says your ex is dating someone else and you say, “I could care less,” you either need to get over them or improve your grammar.
Before you type one of these phrases, think carefully about what you want to say.
“Loose” is an adjective meaning not tight or not secured.
While it can sometimes be used as a verb, most writers choose to forgo this form and use “loosen” instead.
“Lose” is always a verb and means to suffer a loss, part with, or fail to keep possession of something.
Your tooth may be loose, but you lose your tooth.
“You’re” is a contraction meaning “you are,” while “your” is possessive, meaning something belongs to you.
When proofing your work, say “you are” every time you come across a “you’re.”
If it sounds off, you have the wrong word.
You’re responsible for your word choice, so if you’re not sure, your best bet is to double-check.
Inexperienced writers use these interchangeably, which is incorrect.
Semicolons separate two main clauses that are closely related but could stand alone as complete sentences.
I went swimming; the water was cold.
Writers can overuse the period, creating short, choppy sentences.
For sentence variety, try joining two related, independent clauses with a semicolon.
You can use a colon to introduce a list.
You can also use it for emphasis.
My grandmother prepared my favorite breakfast: eggs, bacon, and pancakes.
Make sure you have a complete sentence/independent clause before the colon.
Here’s another error you can’t depend on your computer software to catch.
“Who” is used with people or animals who are named.
As a rule of thumb, if whomever you are talking about is a person or has a name, “who” is the appropriate word to use.
For objects, unnamed animals or anything else, use “that.”
Abusing Adverbs, Qualifiers, and Intensifiers
Be careful about overusing adverbs, qualifiers, and intensifiers–words such as actually, really, very, basically, kind of, extremely and definitely.
These are often unnecessary, and they take up valuable space in your writing. For example, how tired is very tired? It’s impossible to tell.
These words can make your writing appear immature or unsophisticated.
When you encounter these common modifiers, ask yourself whether they’re crucial to the meaning of the sentence. You may need a stronger word for what they’re modifying.
The Comma Splice
When a comma is used to connect two main clauses, there should be a conjunction such as “and,” “but” or “or.”
If the two clauses can stand alone, they should be separated by a period, not a comma.
Incorrect: His dog ran away, he ran after it.
Correct: His dog ran away, and he ran after it.
Now, it’s your turn…
What common writing mistake annoys you?
Tell us about it in the comments.