THE 5 WRITING MISTAKES YOU’RE PROBABLY MAKING

The Top 5 Writing Mistakes You're Probably Making

Before becoming a blogger I was a magazine journalist for 20 years.

During that time I wrote for glossy publications all over the world, including Cosmopolitan, Red, Psychologies and The Guardian’s Weekend magazine (if you’re interested, you can see some of my published work HERE).

For me, one of the most satisfying things of the past seven years has been seeing the blogging industry evolve from something no one had heard of, to something traditional media knew about, but looked down on, and finally to a respected and influential form of publishing.

However, there are a handful of mistakes I’m seeing over and over; professional no-no’s (edited: in reply to a comment this is not an incorrect use of an apostrophe – when forming a plural of a word that’s not normally a noun, it’s acceptable to add an apostrophe for clarity and ease of reading) that continue to give the publishing purists – who still think blogging isn’t ‘real’ writing – endless ammunition to throw at us.

Are you guilty of any of these?

TOP 5 WRITING MISTAKES

• Using! Lots! Of! Exclamation! Points! In traditional journalism, exclamation points are very rarely used, and even then only if you’re expressing extreme shock or surprise. They’re frowned on because – as a writer – you should be able to convey emotion with your words, and not have to ‘cheat’ with punctuation.

• Mixing up ‘I’ and ‘Me’. To figure out when to use ‘me’, you simply have to take away the other person or people in the sentence, and see if it still makes sense. For example: ‘She came over to talk to Tom and I.’ You wouldn’t say: ‘She came over to talk to I’, so in this case it should be ‘Tom and me’ or – even better, in my opinion- ‘me and Tom’. Remove the other person and it still makes sense: ‘She came over to talk to me.’.

• Writing ‘could of’ rather than ‘could have’. It’s never ‘could of’ – those two words don’t grammatically belong together – it’s always ‘I could have’ or ‘I could’ve’. Also, if you’re unsure when to use ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ read the sentence in your head, replacing ‘it’s’ with ‘it is’. Does it still make sense? If it does, use the apostrophe; if it doesn’t, don’t.

• Giving too much detail. When it comes to writing, less is more; if you’re posting about a day out, there’s no need to include every single second of your day. Pick out the most interesting points, and concentrate on them. The mark of a true writer is not just knowing what to put in, but also what to leave out.

• Confusing your tenses. You can either write in present, or past tense (one will usually feel a bit more natural to you), but you need to stick to one throughout your post, and ideally your entire blog.

Present would be: ‘As we walk along the boulevard, I can’t help but notice the beautiful, blue sky.’ Past would be: ‘As we walked along the boulevard, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful, blue sky.’

Either of these is perfectly fine, but don’t mix them up: ‘As we walk along the boulevard, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful, blue sky.’ In this context ‘walk’ is present tense, while ‘couldn’t’ is past tense, so they shouldn’t go together.

I hope you’ve found these helpful – I’ll be posting more professional writing tutorials, including how to pitch a freelance feature and how to break into travel writing, so make sure you subscribe to my email list (sign-up box in right-hand column) if you’d like to get those straight to your inbox. 

• image: ‘Crumpled paper balls with eye glasses and notebook on wood desk, creative writing concept‘ courtesy of Shutterstock

9 Comments

  1. Misuse of apostrophes also needs to be on this list – no-no’s doesn’t belong to anyone, nor does it show an abbreviation for “no-no is”

    • One of the most confusing things about grammar is that there are rules, and there are also exceptions to the rules; in special cases, such as when forming a plural of a word that is not normally a noun, some writers add an apostrophe for clarity and ease of reading.

      A good example of this is: ‘Do’s and don’ts’ – you’ll less often see someone write ‘Dos and Don’ts’, although, technically, this is the ‘correct’ version. When a verb is used as a plural noun the apostrophe is added because without it the word looks ‘wrong’ or becomes confusing. In this instance, I felt ‘no-nos’ didn’t look read or look right, and needed the apostrophe to give that clarification.

      (Interestingly, my in-built WordPress grammar check also pulled up ‘no-nos’ as being incorrect, while ‘no-no’s’ was correct.)

      Although certainly not essential, many grammar experts recommend that, with single lowercase letters, it’s advisable to use apostrophes. To give another example, you would write: ‘My a’s look like u’s’, even though neither is a contraction, nor does either indicate possession. However, without apostrophes it would read: ‘My as look like us’, which clearly doesn’t make sense.

      So you are correct; misuse of apostrophes actually should be on this list, just not for the reasons you’re suggesting. But please don’t feel feel bad, as many people are confused by this grammatical loophole. Thanks for commenting!

      • “don’t feel bad” – ouch! You have used an apostrophe incorrectly which you admit. Then you turn it round and say I’m in the wrong thanks to common usage (care to provide a citation for these experts?). Language usage certainly evolves over time (cf Pinker and colleagues), but the point which should be clear is that you are setting yourself up as an expert on grammar this page and yet include a stinker of a mistake (which you don’t justify in the text if you’re going to stray from the accepted rules).

        What an odd and unpleasant way to deal with people who comment on your blog. I’ll certainly not be continuing to read it.

        • It’s not used incorrectly, Charlotte, as I’ve clearly pointed out in my reply an apostrophe can be used exactly in the instance in which I’ve used it. Thanks again for your comment.

  2. Great tips here Jacqui, I’m sorry to say that you got me on no.1 I’m terrible for overusing !!!!! I blame texting as I started using them on there first. I will try harder x
    Sabina @MummyMatters recently posted…Sit back and relax with fun online bingo gamesMy Profile

    • Ah, texting grammar – a whole other ballgame; perhaps one day I’ll be writing a post on correct emoticon usage..? 😉 x

  3. Yes to these, I’m taught English GCSE once upon a tie and my tolerance levels to grammatical mistakes is pretty low. Grammarly is an amazing download on chrome and free too and it checks for any mistakes with ease and works on everything so social media, emails, comments! I have to say, I also cringe at the seasons being written in caps!

    Eek! Fab post x
    Honest mum recently posted…A Summer Adventure in the South of FranceMy Profile

  4. I wish grammar was still taught in schools in the way it was when I was growing up. Kids today do not seem to understand grammar because they are not taught correctly.

    • It’s funny you should say that, Caroline, as I’ve noticed a much bigger emphasis on grammar now at my eldest daughter’s school (she’s Year 4). I think the educators have finally realised than an entire generation missed out on this knowledge, and are now trying to rectify this – which is great! x

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