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Seven (unprofessional) mistakes you’re probably making in your writing

Seven (unprofessional) mistakes you’re probably making in your writing

Nobody wants to make mistakes in their writing, and no matter how much you proofread and double-check, there’s always going to be something that you miss—nothing is ever perfect. However, if you know what to look for, then maybe you can make your work that little bit more professional.

So, on that note, here’s my list of seven errors that seem to pop up a lot. Take note, add them to your proofreading checklist, do whatever you do—hopefully this list can help you to avoid errors like this more often.

@@Are you making these common mistakes in your writing?@@

 

1. REMOVE DOUBLE SPACES

Double spaces can occur for a variety of reasons: Maybe you’ve deleted a word but forgotten to delete the space before it, or maybe you’ve cut and pasted and some spaces have been inserted where they shouldn’t be. Some readers may not notice, but to me, double spaces stick out.

Note: When I say 'double spaces', I mean between words, not between lines or anything like that. I mean when  you see   something like    this  .

How to fix it

Get in the habit of searching for two spaces next to each other when you’ve finished your post. You can add this to your proofreading checklist (or download this one for free).

 

2. LEARN YOUR CONFUSABLE WORDS

The grammar-obsessed community makes so much noise about confusable words that I’m always surprised when I see them used incorrectly.

What do I mean by confusable words?

it’s/its

except/accept

their/there/they’re

practice/practise (for the UK/Australian English writers among us)

The list goes on.

How to fix it

Proofread! (I share some tips about proofreading at the very end of this post.) Know what your weak words are so you can be extra aware to check them.     

                

3. USE SIGNPOSTS IN YOUR WRITING

If you want people to read your text, you need to make sure that you’re making it as easy as possible for them to do so. If I feel lost while I’m reading your work—if I have no idea what the point is or where you’re going—I’m probably going to stop reading. Also, if I can’t skim your post to find the information I’m really looking for, or to figure out if I do want to read the whole thing, I’m not going to be as likely to read the post.

How to fix it

Plan ahead. Before you start writing, plan what you’re going to write in the form of a brainstorm or list. You might write down all the points you’re going to make or the different subheadings you’re going to include.

Then, as you’re writing, you can make sure your text is well signposted by including:

  • an introduction to tell your readers what you’re going to be talking about
  • subheadings for each point you make
  • language that tells your reader what’s happening (e.g., ‘firstly’, ‘last’, etc.)
  • a conclusion that wraps up what you’ve talked about and why it’s important.

If you’re the type of writer who doesn’t like to plan before you write, then at least plan before you edit—create a retrospective plan after you’ve written your piece and follow it as you edit and proofread.

 

4. KILL YOUR EXCLAMATION MARKS

I once read a blog post with an exclamation mark at the end of every sentence. I would have liked to read the whole post, but I couldn’t—the exclamation marks were distracting me from the content and making it a painful read.

How to fix it

Proofread your work. Ask yourself: Does this sentence really need an exclamation mark? Am I going to lose anything if I replace this exclamation mark with a full stop? If the answer is ‘no’, please, please get rid of that exclamation mark.

@@Kill your exclamation marks and other writing advice@@

 

5. USE ‘I.E.’ AND ‘E.G.’ CORRECTLY

I.e. means that is, and e.g. means for example.

How to fix it

Whenever you write it, reread the sentence in your head with the full version (that is) where the shortened version (i.e.) is. If it doesn’t make sense, change it.

Extra tip

While not a convention that is universally used, I recommend punctuating like this:

e.g.,        i.e.,

Why? If you were writing for example in a sentence, how would you write it?

for example,        that is,

You would include commas, right? So why wouldn’t you include commas in the shortened versions? Plus, you look like you know about grammar, and that’s always a positive.

 

6. LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘LESS’ AND ‘FEWER’

Getting less and fewer right is not always easy—unless you have a trick up your sleeve to remember which one is which.

How to fix it

You can use two different strategies to get less and fewer right. The first is less precise, but the second is a bit more difficult.

First strategy: If you can count it, use fewer. If you can’t count it, use less.

E.g., less affection; fewer hugs
        less money; fewer coins

Second strategy: Less and fewer describe nouns. If you’re describing a singular noun (i.e., you can use is after it) then use less. If you’re describing a plural noun (i.e., you can use are after it) then use fewer. (This way is a bit more tricky but much more reliable.)

E.g., affection is ... less affection; hugs are ... fewer hugs
        money is ... less money; coins are ...  fewer coins

 

7. PROOFREAD

Proofreading is at the heart of many—if not all—of these points, which is why I left it until the end. If you want to make sure that your writing comes across as professional, proofreading is such a vital step.

How to fix it

If you can’t afford to have an editor look at everything you write to ensure that these sorts of simple errors are caught (and I wouldn’t blame you for that!), you still have several options. You could:

  • Develop your own proofreading checklist that includes the words you know you get wrong often or the errors you make a lot (download this checklist that includes common mistakes and will help to get you started).
  • Get a proofreading buddy (read this blog post that tells you why and how).
  • Learn some proofreading tricks.

(Of course, if you do want to invest in an editor to proofread for you, I can do that, too!)

So, those are my seven tips for making your writing more professional by reducing simple errors. Let me know in the comments if you have been making any of these. Or, if you have noticed other errors that you think are unprofessional and have an easy fix, let me know about those, too!

@@Seven unprofessional writing mistakes you're probably making@@

Ten proofreading tricks

Ten proofreading tricks

Why you should have a proofreading buddy (and how to find one)

Why you should have a proofreading buddy (and how to find one)