5 Common Writing Errors to Avoid

Writing, Writing Errors
Photo Credit: mugfaker via Compfight cc

Language is constantly changing and writing changes with it, so it’s easy to make mistakes. For writers, however, it is essential that grammatical errors be eliminated from a text before it is viewed by its target audience. This is just as vital for authors as it is for freelance writers.

I’ve edited countless documents, short stories, and novels over the years and I’m going to share with you the most common writing errors I see. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list, but it will definitely get you started.

Misplacing Commas

Commas are tricky little buggers. People tend to use them too much or not enough, rarely finding the correct balance. This is understandable. It’s likely the only time you ever actually learned about comma use was in your high school English class; and let’s be real, who really paid attention? By the time you got to college, your professors already expected you to know where commas went and just docked your grade instead of providing any useful guidance.

What makes commas even more complicated is there are numerous ways to misuse them! I’m not going to bore you by reviewing them all, but I highly recommend utilizing Purdue OWL’s Quick Rules for commas guide if you know this is an area in which you struggle.

My personal experience editing has shown me one of the most common comma errors occurs during introductory phrases.

Example: In fact, people neglect to include commas like this all the time.

If you have an introductory phrase at the beginning of your sentence, a comma should always follow. These commas establish the way sentences should be read. Misplacing or forgetting to add a comma in this instance can completely alter the meaning of your sentence.

Here are a few other common introductory phrases:

  • Because of this, …
  • However, …
  • In honesty, …
  • Frankly, …

Selecting the Wrong Word

This is one of the easiest mistakes to make because the English language is quite complicated and misleading. We use several words that sound similar, but have distinctly different meanings and functions. Unfortunately, there are not “tricks” to help select the right word; you simply have to learn and memorize the differences.

Common examples of easily confused words:

  • Their – There – They’re
    • “Their” is plural and possessive, meaning it should be used when you refer to a group (two or more) who possess something.
      • The Bowyers are extremely proud of their writing website.
    • “There” references a place, meaning you should use it when indicating a location
      • You can find good writing advice there.
    • “They’re” is short for “they are,” meaning it should be used when discussing a group of people who are doing something.
      • They’re going to provide a lot of great writing information.
  • Its – It’s
    • “Its” is possessive, meaning it indicates possession of something.
      • The cat flicked its tail and knocked over my coffee!
    • “It’s” is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.”
      • It’s going to be great when I publish this post.

These are the two I see most often when editing, but there are many of them. Spend a little time familiarizing yourself with other incorrectly used words to enhance your writing.

Fragmenting Sentences

I see sentence fragments all the time and at every level of writing. This common error arises from our desire to write like we speak, but written English is considerable more technical than casual conversation.

So, what is a sentence fragment? It’s a portion of a sentence that can’t stand alone and make sense. It will lack a subject, verb, or both.

Example: People who do something.

People who do something…what? There isn’t enough information to provide a reader with a clear picture of the intended meaning of the sentence. The best way to avoid fragmented sentences is to read each sentence individually, confirming they can all make sense alone.

Letting Sentences Run On

Unlike fragmented sentences that can’t stand alone, run-on sentences are made up of two independent thoughts that have been inappropriately fused together. Again, these errors are often made because we want to write like we talk.

Example: Ryan is really good at writing information quickly Amanda is best as fine-tuning material.

The good thing about run-on sentences is that they are incredibly easy to fix. The content is there, but it lacks the correct punctuation. The example above could be edited in a number of ways including:

Ryan is really good at writing information. Amanda is best at fine-tuning material.

Ryan is really good at writing information; Amanda is best at fine-tuning material.

Ryan is really good at writing information and Amanda is best at fine-tuning material.

You can fix run-on sentences by making the two thoughts separate sentences, by adding a semicolon between them, or by adding a conjunction. If you know you struggle with sentence structure, proof read your material and specifically look for sentences that contain multiple thoughts without connective punctuation or language.

Switching Tenses

If I had to choose a single writing error I see most often, it would be this one. Creative writers, in particular, should watch out for changing between writing tenses. This is because there are a number of ways to tell any story. Authors can write as if events are unfolding in present or past tense and, on occasion, may even write about things that will happen in the future. That can be a lot to keep straight!

The best way to avoid shifting between tenses in your writing is to consciously decide which tense you plan to write in and then stick to it. If you are writing about something that happened in the past, know that you will be using words like, “went,” “were,” and “had,” instead of “go,” “are,” and “have.” Check your writing periodically to ensure you are remaining on track; it can be easy to fall into another tense if you aren’t careful.

Wrap Up

Language can be complication, so don’t get frustrated or discouraged if you keep finding errors in your writing. In fact, it’s a good thing when you notice your own mistakes. Not only does that mean you are becoming more aware of your writing, it also means you are learning. You’ll find that once you realize you’re making a particular grammatical error, you become hyper-aware and make it less often. It’s a process and it will take time.

Until next time, keep writing and keep learning about writing; the more you learn now, the fewer errors you will make in the future!

If you need a document, blog, website, or book edited, consider hiring me to help. I have extensive experience editing materials at all levels and would be happy to assist. Visit my Hire Me page for details about this service or contact us today for a free project quote.


Leave a Reply