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Monday, July 15, 2013

Avoid these Common Errors in Writing

Common Errors in Writing

As an editor for the past several years, I see a lot of things in writing that needs to be fixed. That's what you hire an editor for. Everyone needs an editor--especially the editor. One of my own most common mistakes is skipping a word when I write. My brain fills it in for me, and no matter how many times I "proofread" I will never catch it just by skimming over my work, sometimes even when I read it back aloud.

You can help yourself and your editor by watching for and avoiding these most common errors.


Pronoun Agreement

English has pirated the best words from Latin and Greek, Indo-European, and Aboriginal languages; however, we are crippled by lack of pronouns. We have only male, female, gender-neutral plural, gender-neutral singular, which generally refers to inanimate objects. Singular and plural in the same sentence or paragraph must agree.




      Direct address: You; modified only with a contraction/verb (you'd, you'll, you're), never pluralized occasionally, "one" is used as a gender neutral address, but it is awkward at best



Words like Everyone, Everybody, need to be followed up with singular pronouns, since “body” and “one” are singular usages, not plural. You can use “We all” or “All of them” to match plural pronouns they/them.


Everyone made it on time to his or her appointment.

They all made it on time to their appointments.



To show possession, EXCEPT WITH GENDER NEUTRAL IT OR YEARS, use an apostrophe.

Carl’s dog has lived with him at the Reader’s house since 1995.

That old dog, born in the 1990s, has lived with the Readers. It’s had all its required shots.

Plural possession will have the comma after the “s.” In my parents’ house, the dog is kept out of the kitchen.


Plural: Simple plurals never need an apostrophe

Carl once had three dogs at the same time. The Readers did not like that.


In Contractions (it is=it’s, they are=they’re, he will=he’ll) an apostrophe replaces a letter. If you cannot divide the word back to its original two words, do not use an apostrophe.

It has had all of its shots.


Commas & Dialog marks

Commas should and always are meant to ease reading, according to the Chicago Manual of Style. There are some rules, but personal style and judgment can be considered; it’s becoming common to use fewer, as long as usage is consistent.

In general, commas are used to introduce something, such as the subject of the sentence (Therefore, / On the other hand, ), or dialogue (Grandma said, “I remember…); or to set off a parenthetical phrase (something you would be able to put in parentheses like this one); to separate items in a list, often but not always to identify an appositive (my brother, Rico, said… Although My brother Rico said... is equally correct--as long as there's no confusion about whom you're referring to); to set off restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses—and that’s one you can use your best judgment on and let the editor figure it out.

American English uses a double quote to set off dialogue; periods, commas, question marks and exclamation points will 99% of the time be inside the quotation marks. Queen’s and other European styles do the opposite. Where is your book going to be marketed and sold the most? Use that version.


Using the wrong word

Spell-check on your word processing program is good for a quick check, but must never be relied upon, as it finds and fixes general spelling errors, but cannot always judge whether you’ve used the correct word.





Words like toward/towards.

They’re both correct, but authors need to choose one version and use it consistently throughout the manuscript. Use a global search for this word to see all instances of the word in the manuscript and make sure they’re all the same. Spell out the name of a place and make sure it’s the same, such as Mount/ Mt., or an abbreviation for a title, such as Doctor/ Dr.


Reading your work out loud--no cheating-- is your best initial defense.


  1. Soooooooo common! It is amazing that many of these jump from the page when reading another person's book, but are easy to miss in one's own writing - another reason why hiring an editor is essential!

  2. Oh...I know. I was just going through the comments from my crit partner on my new WIP and I can't believe how many words I miss. A lot of them were "had" so maybe my brain is telling me to be more interesting and not use it so much to begin with.