3 Common Writing Mistakes and How to Catch Them

Photo © Urbanworkbench on Flickr

Edit?  Who has time to to edit.  I send out work emails 127 times a day.  One sentence replies.  Pages of documents, a letter to a friend even.  I can read, I can spell, and I can put words together and form hardy complex-sentences.  Isn’t spell check enough.  Apparently it isn’t.

Did you catch the grammatical error in the second sentence?  Well, there is a grammar error AND a punctuation error.  Yes, I actually made those two mistakes for affect but I bet you didn’t catch it.  You caught it now though, right?  You see, editing isn’t for losers- because I certainly am no loser! (Tongue in cheek).

I did my fair share of writing in school; probably a bit more than the average due to the types of classes that I chose to take.  Of all of the many important editing tips that I took away from my education I must tell you that this one stands out as the most important to me:

READ IT OUT LOUD!!

Really.  Read and then re-read but do it out loud.  Of course, you can whisper or do a low mumble if you are at work (or just don’t want to feel silly) but the best way to proof read what you wrote is to say it out loud.  Often you will find that you thought so many words in your head but they didn’t all quite make it onto the paper. You will catch that “mistake of the missing word” if you proof read aloud.

  1. A common writing mistake is the added, unneeded word like the one I put in the second sentence.  I wrote “to to.”  I only needed one of those. Often times your spell check won’t catch that mistake because it is spelled correctly. However, it was unintended.  Watch out for that because those simple mistakes are the ones that stick out as an obvious sign that you did not take the time to proof read your work. Maybe if you had read your work out loud you would have caught the the redundancy. (Did you catch that?)
  2. A second easy writing mistake to make is to jumble a few of your well-intended thoughts together- maybe even in the same paragraph when you should keep it simple and just stick to one point at a time.  You can’t start telling the reader about how to BBQ chicken and smoothly transition into lap swimming. Those two thoughts should not even be in the same sentence. What you will find is that you have so many thoughts in your head that you are trying to get in writing that you actually leave out some of the thoughts merely because your mind is moving so much faster than you can type.  Here’s an idea: have your friend or spouse (whomever) proof read your writing out loud.  You will probably hear your mistakes.  A well-intended thought can easily get lost in translation onto paper.
  3. I think a third common writing mistake is the changing of the tenses.  If you start a thought in the present tense then most likely you should not be finishing that thought in the past.  Read it out loud.  Did you intend for that tense change?  Look at this example:  She teaches elementary age children before she was married.  In the beginning you refer to her in the present tense and then immediately refer to her in the past.  It can’t be both. My guess is, had you read that out loud that mistake would have been caught.

Are you catching on?  Your eyes WILL deceive you.  It happens all the time. What’s most embarrassing is passing on your essay, your love letter, your raise request, your time-sensitive thesis, your recipe, or your eulogy (yes, you should write your own if you want it to be accurate) and having the receiver stumble upon your simple mistakes.

Trust me on this here: I will have this blog read, re read, re- re read, and then read again- out loud before I put it in print.  Surely I practice what I preach, right?

Marci Stevens is writer, a consummate reader and a stickler for details.

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4 Responses to “3 Common Writing Mistakes and How to Catch Them”

  1. Bonnie Gardner July 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    I agree, Marcie. I find that I add the word “that” too often. In fact, I could have left it out of the previous sentence completely and it would have been fine.

  2. Good post. I particularly hate the ‘affect’ you’ve used in line 5 of your 2nd paragraph when it should have been ‘effect’. (Effect is the noun and affect is the verb.) Another hate is when people muddle your and you’re.

  3. Excellent reminder. Yep, I’ve been guilty of these more than once. Reading aloud offers a great cure. Another solution is to let 24-48 hours go by before editing.

    However, don’t let fear of imperfection stop you from putting your words out there. Too many small business owners are afraid to blog or write because, “they can’t write.”

    Marketers have tested copy with typos against copy without, and sometimes the typo ridden copy gets better response.

    While nobody enjoys making mistakes, we all make ‘em, and apparently, we relate. :)

  4. Word selection should be done wisely. If your words selection is impressive and good then your writing can make an impact directly in the mind of a reader. The power of writing is hidden in the use of words selection.

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