So you think you can write? How to avoid simple mistakes in your writing

Content writing Copywriting Editing Proofreading

We all make mistakes in life, there’s no denying that. I’m not perfect and have been known to drop a few clangers from time to time.

Sometimes we’re in too much of a rush to bother checking our work and that’s when the simplest of mistakes fall through the proverbial crack, potentially having a catastrophic impact that either completely changes the meaning of your work or makes it look unprofessional.

How can you avoid making these simple mistakes in your writing? And what are the most common mistakes that you should look out for?

The most obvious way to avoid simple mistakes in your writing is by proofreading it and checking for errors. But don’t just proofread once, do it several times especially for longer documents which can be tiring to read. A fresh set of eyes is more likely to spot the smallest of errors so it’s good to check your writing again after a break, maybe even overnight.

Here are some of the most common mistakes I’ve spotted over the last month or so with the majority of them appearing on social media – not surprising really given the more informal nature of communication and conversation that takes place on these channels. However that doesn’t mean that business page owners and admin people should cut corners – all it takes is a little care and attention to detail to eliminate errors and create a polished and professional business image.

1.  Your vs You’re

I see this all the time, particularly in text messages so I’m not convinced it’s because people don’t understand the difference between the two, it’s just sheer laziness. “You’re” is simply a contraction of “you are” as in “you’re an idiot” and “your” is possessive as in “your car is really fast.” Simples.

2.  They’re vs Their vs There

They all sound the same but have completely different meanings and uses. They’re also known as homophones. “They’re” is a contraction of “they are.” “Their” is possessive as in “their car is really fast” and “there” indicates a place “the car over there is really fast.”

3.  Could of | Should of | Would of…

For some reason this mistake drives me nuts, and I think it’s just because people are lazy and write what they hear. The word “of” should be “have”, so “could have”, “should have” and “would have” can be contracted to “could’ve”, “should’ve” and “would’ve” and for some reason they all look a bit weird in this form, but they are correct!

4.  Its vs It’s

Its is the possessive of the pronoun “it”, as in “she changed her handbag and in its place took her purse.” It’s is a contraction of “it is” as in “it’s a beautiful day – it’s not forecast to rain for the next two weeks!”

5.  Gotten…

Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Well, I am British! Just hate seeing this word. It is so sloppy. It means – to take possession of something as in “get” or “got”.  In American and Canadian English, the past participle of the word “got” is usually “gotten” and so it’s acceptable to use it over there. I think what irks me the most is when I see Australian or British people use it – maybe they’re trying to be “cool” but it doesn’t work for me.

6.  Over-Use Of Capital Letters

If You’ve Got Something Really Important to Say, Write It in Capitals Because People will Pay More Attention to You! WRONG! Over capitalising creates the wrong impression and is usually due to a lack of confidence because the writer doesn’t know which words to capitalise. It is commonly done to add emphasis and unfortunately it confuses and turns off your reader. Read my blog post here to find out more.

7.  Excessive use of exclamation marks!!

It’s easy to get excited, especially on social media. And when you have something fantastic to announce to the world it’s hard not to use a series of exclamation marks to punctuate your delight (or misery depending on the situation). Exclamation marks are ok in informal communication as long as they’re not used excessively but they don’t belong in more formal business documents. There’s a blog post about it here.

8.  Incorrect use of apostrophes

This isn’t as common as some of the mistakes listed above but it’s worth educating readers on how to use apostrophes correctly in your writing. In short, an apostrophe indicates a contraction as in “you’re” or possession “his sister’s apartment.” You can read more about apostrophes here.

9.  The humble comma

Knowing when to use commas in your writing is important for it to make sense and be grammatically correct. Despite its small stature, the comma is a key punctuation mark, with its primary role to enhance clarity and eliminate ambiguity. Find out more here.

10.  To vs Too

These are commonly confused words that differ greatly in use and meaning. “To” can be used as a preposition: “she took the boat to France” or as part of a verb phrase: “we would love to see you soon.” The word “too” can be used when something is done excessively “you’re running too fast!” or in place of “also” or “as well” as in “I like chocolate too.”