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Five Basic Writing Mistakes to Avoid


There is no such thing as a perfect writer. I don’t care what you’ve read or been told, a writer that commits zero mistakes doesn’t exist. Whether a newbie or a pro, all writers are prone to getting tripped up by a word or grammar rule occasionally. Today, we’re going to look at five of the most common mistakes writers make and how to avoid them.  

Marketing writing

1.   Is it Affect or Effect?

No matter how long I’ve been writing, these two words always have me second guessing myself; so much so that I’ve actually written down how to tell the difference and posted it where I can always see it. And I don’t think I’m the only writer to have this problem. Both affect and effect can be used as nouns and verbs, but the general rule of thumb for the way each word is commonly used is affect as a verb and effect as a noun. To affect something (verb) is to change it, while effect (noun) is the result of someone or something affecting something. See how confusing it can be? When you find yourself doubting which word to use, always double check with a trusted source before potentially embarrassing yourself in front of the grammar police.

  1.   One Space or Two?

For many of us, the rule of two spaces after a period and one space after a comma was drilled into our heads during high school composition class and enforced all the way through college. But as Bob Dylan famously said, ‘The times they are a-changin.’ According to WritersDigest.com, the ‘two spaces after period’ rule was established during the days of typesetters, when it was necessary to show the difference between word spacing and sentence spacing. When typewriters, and eventually computers came along, the extra space wasn’t needed anymore, but people continued to use it and teachers continued to tell students it was the proper way. About five years ago while working with a web designer (who was at least a decade younger than me) I was shocked to learn that two spaces were not only passé, but using them shouted that I was old school and not open to change. And just like that I converted to the single space camp and haven’t looked back. If you are also having a hard time adjusting to this ‘new’ rule, it may ease your mind to know that most all stylebooks, including The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, state you should always use a single space after a period.

3.   i.e. vs. e.g.  

I see this next mistake quite often when I’m asked to edit print and online materials. It even gets thrown around incorrectly in conversation. Why does this happen? I believe it’s because many writers are guilty of thinking that ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ are interchangeable terms. However, they aren’t and here’s how you can not only tell the difference, but instantly make yourself sound smarter by using them correctly:

i.e. – Translated from the Latin words ‘id est,’ it means ‘that is.’ It is used synonymously with ‘namely.’ It clarifies, specifies, and limits. When you’re trying to decide whether to use it in a sentence, read it as if you were saying ‘in essence’ or ‘in other words’: Putting ketchup on a steak at an expensive restaurant is like petting a porcupine (i.e., a very bad idea).

e.g. Also Latin, this abbreviation for ‘exempli gratia’ means ‘for example.’ When you are using this term, you are telling the reader that the items you’ve listed are one of several possible options: The buffet provided an excellent variety of soups (e.g., vegetarian, non-vegetarian, and kosher).

  1.   Less vs. Fewer

Here are two more terms that trip writers up from time to time. Use fewer when you’re referring to people or things in the plural form: ‘There are fewer people these days reading the newspaper.’ When you’re referring to something that doesn’t need to be counted or in the plural form, use less: ‘The job is better, but it pays less money.’ Less can also be used with numbers when they are on their own, and with expressions of measurement or time: ‘It takes less than 10 minutes to get home from work.’

  1.   Compliment and Complement

I always love the look on people’s faces when I tell them that not only are there two ways to spell the word, but they have entirely different meanings as well. Many are surprised since the difference in spelling is so subtle. First let’s start with the word we’re all most familiar with – compliment. Simply put, it means free or flattery. We’ve all come across the phrase ‘complimentary parking’ or received a compliment from someone else regarding our hair, clothes, or as writers, hopefully a client praising our work. Whereas complement means to complete or supplement. For example, ‘The drapes are a perfect complement to the color of the sofa.’

As I stated at the beginning, we are all prone to a grammatical gaffe every now and then. What writers want to avoid is making errors so often that it impedes their writing and ultimately their ability to be hired. So, when in doubt whether you should use this term or that term, either get a second opinion from another writer you trust, or take five minutes to look up the grammar term in question. Not only will your work sound smarter, but clients will also appreciate your attention to detail, which will hopefully lead them to recommending you to other clients. And there’s no greater compliment than that!

 

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