Ten Worst Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Declan Mulkeen

16 Nov 2016

With the inexorable rise of email, instant messaging systems and social media as the main means of corporate communication, you might think that traditional writing skills are no longer required. While some readers might forgive poor writing in internal communication the same is not necessarily true of external communication. Here are what many consider the ten worst writing mistakes and some advice on how to fix them.

Writing Mistakes: You Are What you Write

The professional image of any organisation is most visible in the quality and accuracy of its written communication. Why then do so many organisations fail to invest in developing their employees’ abilities to write effectively and convey the right professional image?

writing mistakes

1. Spelling Mistakes

The BBC reports that one simple spelling mistake can cost online businesses up to 50% of their sales. Using a spellchecking tool will ensure most sloppy spelling mistakes are avoided.

Always let your writing sit for a short period before hitting ‘send’

2. Less or Fewer

Less people may be interested in reading a document. People may be fewer interested in reading a document.

In the above sentence ‘Less’ people is grammatically incorrect but increasingly used while ‘fewer’ interested makes little sense. Choosing the wrong word is confusing and can make a sentence meaningless. These mistakes can be particularly difficult for people to understand if they are writing in a language other than their mother tongue.

3. Their or there

“There new intern was hoping to be offered a job their.”

Confusing “there” with “their” might cause the reader to question the author’s basic literacy skills. These are examples of homophones: words that sound the same but have a different spelling and meaning.

Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking, Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

4. Contractions

“You’re” writing style may often send a different message to what “your” trying to say.

Contractions are generally now acceptable in written communication – as long as they are used appropriately and not confused with their homophone. So check carefully whether it’s “you’re” not “your” or “they’re” not “there”.

5. Switching Tense

Sentences that are inconsistent can confuse the reader: “He writes every day for an hour or two and finished his report in a week”. Asking someone with a fresh pair of eyes to proof your writing may help detect tense errors that you might not easily see yourself.

Read and reread your writing to ensure that you haven’t left a half-written sentence somewhere

6. Apostrophes

Since when did writer’s feel the need to insert apostrophes in so many word’s?

Apostrophes indicate either possession or an abbreviation.  Susan’s book = the book of Susan, that’s = that is. How many times has “its” been mistakenly written as “it’s” and vice versa? We use “it’s” as an abbreviation of “it is” but “its” is used to denote the possessive form.

If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave, Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

7. Incomplete Sentences

How many times have you come across a half-written sentence?

Read and reread your writing to ensure that you haven’t left a half-written sentence somewhere or used sentence fragments rather than grammatically complete sentences.

8. Historic or Historical

Easily confused, historical describes something relating to the past or about history while historic means important or significant. ‘We are investigating a number of historical crimes’ but ‘it was a historic case that changed the way the police compiled evidence.’

9. Me vs. I

If you know your grammar you will understand that I is a subject pronoun and me is an object pronoun. These two common words are sometimes confused when used as part of a longer noun phrase.

“‘John and me will lead the meeting today‘” is not correct as John is at the start of the sentence and is its subject.

“You have really impressed John and I” is also incorrect as this time John comes after the verb and is its object.

If you’re not sure take John out of the sentence and see what word you would use then. You would never say: ‘Me will lead the meeting today’ or ‘You have really impressed I’.

10. Could of, would of, should of

Using ‘of’ after one of these modal verbs is always, always wrong. We sometimes do this when writing quickly because of sounds like the contraction ‘ve. The correct form is, for example, ‘we should have edited the report more thoroughly’ but in our mind we think should’ve and should of comes out on the page.

Finally, always let your writing sit for a short period before hitting ‘send’. Errors are often more difficult to spot straight away. Revisiting your writing after a break and looking at your work with fresh eyes usually allows you to see obvious mistakes that might be missed otherwise.

What are the worst writing mistakes that you have seen?



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