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5 Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid

5 Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Wait ‘til the boss sees this! With a cursory glance at your office masterpiece on the screen, you put your finger on the send button. Yep, everything looks pretty good with just a couple of squiggly lines under a few words where you transposed a letter or two. You easily fix them, and you’re good to go! Press send, work done, relieved sigh.

Not so fast. Popular document programs don’t pick up misused words in documents, and certain words are so commonly misused in casual writing that we sometimes become blind to the errors. The basic rules of English learned in grade school seem to be ignored in the interest of getting out the message. But your professional reputation could be hurt if you make these mistakes repeatedly (although an occasional misstep is okay). Let’s take a look at some of those pesky writing mistakes many people make:

Interchanging “your” and “you’re”: “Your” is a possessive, as in, “This is your email” and “Do you like sugar in your latte, sir?” “You’re” is a contraction of “you” and “are,” and should be used to save time. So remember, if there’s a party and you wish to invite the boss, it’s “You’re Invited!”

Another pesky mistake is switching “than” and “then”: “Than” is a word that is used when comparing two or more things, as in “I would rather be bowling than writing this email,” or “My cubicle is smaller than his.” The word “then” denotes time progression, as in, “I ate my lunch then I played internet chess.”

In order to affect change in your writing, you must be effective in correcting your mistakes, so you should know the difference between “affect” and “effect”: “Affect” is a verb, used to denote action, as in “The telephone affected my internet chess game” or, “I often affect a British accent to sound smarter.” “Effect” is a noun, and is generally the result of the affectation, as in “Because the phone keeps ringing, the effect of the disruption has lowered my online chess rating.”

Certain punctuation can be extremely pesky, dotting the page with misused commas or semi-colons. A few rules of thumb to remember:

Semi-colons: why bother? Semi-colons are wonderful little pieces of punctuation that separate two complete sentences (independent clauses) and help tie your writing together nicely; they help with the flow of writing and help you avoid choppy sentences. See? Wasn’t that a nice sentence? Also, semi-colons should be used to separate items that have commas in their names, such as, “I lived in Baltimore, Maryland; Jefferson, Missouri; and Portland, Oregon.”

Commas can be overused. The basics of comma usage are to denote a natural pause in writing, or to separate two or more things. Go back and read your writing, count the commas, and, if you have too many, rewrite the sentence or separate into another sentence.

Reread your work to avoid these pesky errors, and you will revise less and impress more!

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11:26AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013


3:12PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

I, too, overuse commas!

12:05PM PDT on Apr 6, 2013


8:08AM PST on Feb 28, 2013

i over use commas o.O

5:35AM PST on Feb 10, 2013

Thanks for sharing - this is totally a pet peeve of mine!!

10:09PM PST on Dec 25, 2012


5:16PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

I wish more people would follow these simple grammar rules. I am so glad you explained the purpose of the semicolon because I have had difficulties trying to figure out when to use it.

11:51AM PST on Dec 16, 2012

Dzięki za rady.

11:38PM PST on Dec 14, 2012

Initially, I had some good laughs at the misuse of English in British Columbia offices.
Now I don't laugh anymore.....

1:12PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

I use the natural pause idea to help students who are reluctant to believe they can master the comma. There is a natural, logical rhythm to comma usage, and most people have an understanding that just needs a guidance. OWL is a great resource. They clarify the comma as pause idea here and give quick rules of usage that help understand what the breaks, oral or written, are about
Warning: OWL is almost as dangerous as Google.

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