Between blogging, social media, website publishing, email messaging, and cell phone texting, daily writing has become an integral part of many people's lives. While a good deal of online writing is informal, for Internet publishers who are small business owners, the written word is our potential customers' first impression of us and our businesses. Therefore it is crucial to present our best writing whether we create it ourselves or outsource it.
After carefully crafting a piece of writing, optimizing it for search engines, and designing the article layout, take the time to look for mistakes in spelling, grammar, and structure. Many readers won't be able to identify the errors, yet they will react negatively to poor writing. It's difficult to follow and understand an article that contains too many mistakes.
Here is some of what to look for as you proofread.
Punctuation and spelling
These are probably the easiest mistakes to correct because modern spelling and grammar checker programs will catch most of them. However, don't completely rely on those programs. Be on the lookout for common spelling errors such as:
- Words that sound alike such as they're, their, and there; some and sum; and to, too, and two.
- Frequently misspelled words, for example, guarantee, develop, recommend, accommodate, and argument.Find a list of the 200 most commonly misspelled words at About.com.
Commas are probably the most misused punctuation mark. Here are some rules to keep in mind:
- Include a comma in a compound sentence.
Correct: On Monday my sisters run at the track, and on Tuesdays they run around the neighborhood.
- Avoid using a comma to form a run on sentence. When independent clauses are not joined by a conjunction they can be separated with a semicolon or split into two sentences.
Incorrect: On Mondays my sisters run at the track, on Tuesdays they run around the neighborhood.
- Use commas to separate items in a list of three or more.
Correct: My brother runs on a treadmill, at the track, and in the neighborhood.
All writing boils down to word choice and it's what many of us agonize over. Our words express ideas, convey meaning, set the tone, and define style. Word choices lead readers to understanding or confusion. Words evoke emotion. In business word choices impact sales, subscriber numbers, and return site visitors.
You may be overusing jargon and acronyms, misusing commonly confused words, and making grammar errors in subject and verb agreement, pronoun and noun matches, and parallel structure.
Here are some examples of commonly confused words.
- Which vs. that
That is used in a restrictive element – a clause that is necessary for the meaning of the sentence. Which is used for a non-restrictive element – a clause that can be removed without making the sentence meaningless.
A treadmill that is regularly maintained should last at least several years.
The treadmill, which is my brother's favorite exercise equipment, needs repair.
- Less or fewer
Use fewer when with something you can count and less for something you cannot.
My brother runs fewer miles than my sister. He wouldn't have to run so far if he ate less.
- Affect or effect
Honestly, this one still confuses me. As Grammar Girl explains, affect is usually used as a verb and effect as a noun. You'll also find explanations of many other commonly confused words on her site.
Unless you are writing for a very specific audience who expects it, avoid the use of jargon and acronyms. Many people won't understand what you're talking about.
To avoid common grammar errors:
- Make sure the subject and verb agree in number. Both must be singular or plural, for example, my sister runs or my sisters run. It's fairly easy in a simple sentences like those, but matching can get a little tricky at times. Can you correct the errors in the following sentences?
Each of my sisters run daily.
The error is incorrectly identifying the plural sisters as the subject. The subject is the singular each.
Correct: Each of my sisters runs daily.Neither my sisters nor my brother run on a treadmill.
When one subject is singular and the other plural the verb agrees with the nearest subject.
Correct: Neither my sisters nor my brother runs on a treadmill.
My sisters and my brother run outdoors.
This sentence is correct. Subjects joined by and require a plural verb.
The team run every day.
Collective nouns are usually singular.
Correct: The team runs every day.
Grammar Girl explains when collective nouns are plural and describes the differences in American and British usage.
- Match pronouns and nouns in number and gender
When my sisters run they wear bright colors, but my brother almost always wears his black t-shirt.
- Use parallel structure so that each item in a list or comparison should follow the same grammatical pattern. Proper structure creates patterns that improve readability.
Incorrect: The typical runner prepares by stretching, next jogs, and finishes by sprinting.
Correct: The typical runner prepares by stretching, starts out jogging, and finishes by sprinting.
Use an active voice whenever possible. It's clearer and more concise and has greater impact than a passive voice. An active voice means the subject is taking action. With a passive voice, the subject has everything done to him or her.
Passive: The 5K race was won by my sister.
Active: My sister won the 5K race.
There will be times when you choose to break the rules, but do so knowingly and intelligently. It's also important that you not become so fearful of making mistakes that you don't write. In fact, I'm quite nervous about publishing this piece because surely I've missed at least one or two glaring mistakes that others will spot immediately.
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