When your job entails putting words together at a breakneck pace, the odds are good that your devious fingers will try to put one over on your brilliant mind. Guest author Shanna Mallon details the seven worst writing mistakes you're probably making right now!
No matter how you look at it, writers make mistakes.
Even the best of us accidentally repeat ourselves, forget words, or compulsively hang on to our "darlings." That’s life, right? Or is it?
While it’s true that no writer will ever be perfect, it’s also true that we can continually hone our skills. With that in mind, take a look at 7 of the most common writing blunders even good writers make. Before you publish your next article, check it against these:
1. Accidental repeats. You know that feeling of telling a friend a story and then realizing you've already shared it? It happens in writing, too. When you're not paying close attention, you might repeat a phrase, a story, or a point without realizing it. One good way to catch these accidental repeats is by reading your content aloud; often your ears catch mistakes that your eyes don't.
2. Empty adverbs. Let's be honest. When you add "really" to a verb, what are you really adding? Is calling something "very" cold better than calling it frosty, frigid, or icy? The truth is, many common adverbs are empty: They add little or nothing to the meaning of a sentence and only clutter your copy. Cut them out.
3. Dangling modifiers. Dangling modifiers are a classic symptom of writing exactly as we speak. Although casual, conversational language may contain dangling modifiers, written language should not; they muddy your message. A modifying phrase should immediately precede the thing it modifies. So, instead of writing, "Setting an editorial calendar, the blog mapped months of topics," write, "Setting an editorial calendar, the writer mapped months of topics on her blog." The blog is not setting the calendar; the writer is setting the calendar.
4. Which vs. That. The words "which" and "that" are not interchangeable. Both begin clauses, but "which" clauses are unnecessary to the meaning of a sentence (and thus set off by commas) and "that" clauses are essential.
5. Overly complex words. Using overly complex words in place of simple ones is a perfect way to alienate your readers. Better to be clear and get your message across than to be fancy and lose your audience. When reading over your content, ask yourself whether the meaning is obvious. If not, rewrite.
6. Common misspellings. Most writers understand the difference between "your" and "you're," but it's all too easy to accidentally type one when you mean the other, especially if your spell-check program doesn't pick up the error. Be on guard for common misspellings such as these:
Most writers understand the difference between "your" and "you're," but it's all too easy to accidentally type one when you mean the other.
7. Your personal "tells." A writing "tell" is like a poker "tell": It's something you regularly do—without meaning to—that gives you away. In poker, it might be the way you tap your fingers when you have a good hand; in writing, it might be the way you always use words like "just" or something else. Once you identify some of your overused words or other crutches, you need to ruthlessly cut them out. Using them once in a while is fine, but using them all the time dulls your writing.
This article first appeared on Ragan.com.