Despite the fact that we all basically know how to write (we did learn it when we were five, after all), it still doesn’t come easily to everybody. Errors work their way into professional documents too often and undermine the credibility of the author (and whoever they represent). It’s one thing to be friendly and informal in tone, but you still need to get the basics right. Here are a few of the common errors that must be avoided…
Proper use of the apostrophe
Depending on the writer, apostrophes tend to either be completely missing in action, or abound in more places than they should be. Very few get it solely right. Apostrophes should be used for two purposes only – in contractions (it’s for it is) or to show possession (Logan’s shoes means the shoes belong to Logan). If still in doubt beyond this, leave it out.
This error most obviously comes into play when people are using bullet points. Bullets typically follow on from the start of a sentence and should make sense when read with the header text, in their entirety. Even if there is no lead-in, bullet points form a list that should start consistently, with the same part of speech, for example, all verbs.
The dangling participle
This error not only damages the flow of your writing, but can make it almost impossible for a reader to understand what you are trying to say. Consider this example: ‘After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother bought up some oranges.’ Logically, we may guess that it’s the oranges rotting, not the brother, but that’s not what this sentence says. Instead it leads us to think the brother is decomposing. Make sure that the participial phrase that starts the sentence makes sense with what immediately follows it.
Using the wrong word entirely
A tricky one that even your spellchecker will not be able to help you with is the incorrect use of a word, as opposed to a misspelling. Common ones to look out for include – less/fewer, to/too/two, there/their/they’re, its/it’s and my personal ‘pet peeve’: your/you’re. Think about the meaning of each as you go, don’t just put down the first one that comes to mind. Where you are dealing with a contraction (a word with an apostrophe in the middle), say the extended version out loud to make sure you are using the form that makes sense in your sentence.
Remembering your country of origin
This is another tricky error that technology exacerbates. Depending on what style of English you have the language on your computer set to, your word processor might be sneakily dropping ‘u’s from words like colour and changing ‘s’ to ‘z’ also. Be careful to check that you are using the correct spelling for the country that your writing is originating from.