Writing Helpers

The Devil Is in the Details: 9 of the Most Common Mistakes Writers Make

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The number of details writers need to keep in mind in order to produce great writing can feel a bit overwhelming at times. That’s why I wanted to put together a solid list of some of the most common mistakes writers tend to make. Think of this list as a handy little reference you can refer to whenever you want to make sure you don’t make these common mistakes.

Misspellings and typos

I know this one seems like a no-brainer, but we all need reminders once in a while. Get to know your writing well enough that you can identify patterns where you tend to make mistakes in spelling. When reviewing something you’ve written, you can then pay particular attention to find those mistakes. The spell-checker in your word processing software is good, but it can’t tell you when you’ve misspelled a word into another real word (like their for there or peace for piece). That’s when you need to have another set of eyes proofread your work.

Misused apostrophes

Sometimes the apostrophe has a way of sneaking into words where it simply doesn’t belong, such as when you write the contraction it’s when you should have used the possessive pronoun its. When you see it’s in a sentence, try replacing it with the fully spelled out it is and see if the sentence still makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, you probably should have used the possessive pronoun its. Whenever you see an apostrophe in your writing, just double-check to be sure it really needs to be there.

Overuse of “as”

We all get a little lazy sometimes, and it’s just so easy to pop an as into a sentence without even thinking about it. Next to the word that, which I’ve already written about extensively in two other articles, as is probably next in line for words that get overused. Stay away from using as when what you should really use is because, while, or when.

For example, instead of writing, As he spoke with John on the phone, he jotted down the key points, it would be better to write, he jotted down key points while speaking to John on the phone. It’s generally a good idea to avoid starting sentences with as. The other common mistake people make with as is in combining it with if. You should almost always use as though instead. For example, he laughed as if he really thought it was funny is wrong. It should be written, he laughed as though he really thought it was funny.

Overuse of “the”

Sometimes it takes extra effort to not use or overuse certain words, and the is one of those. I saw the following sentence posted on a writing forum as an answer to a question about the very same word: The rules surrounding the use of the definite article in English are quite complex and confusing for many non-native speakers. It includes three instances of the word the in the first seven words of the sentence!

With a little extra effort, the sentence could be rewritten to read as follows: Rules about using “the” in English are quite complex and confusing for many non-native speakers. Don’t you think that’s much better?

Overuse of qualifiers

I have to include this one because it plagues my own writing. The qualifiers most often appear before verbs and include such words as very, truly, extremely, fairly, really, somewhat, and so on. This is one situation where using a good thesaurus is helpful. Yes, you can say that someone was really happy, but isn’t it more interesting to say the person was delighted?

A person who you’re describing as somewhat annoyed might instead be irritated or vexed. But you don’t have to buy a hard-copy thesaurus. I came up with the alternatives in the somewhat annoyed example by simply doing a Google search using the phrase synonyms for annoyed. That’s the beauty of writing in the digital age! Other “empty adverbs” to watch out for include totally, completely, absolutely, literally, and incredibly.

Rushing the editing process

In a word – don’t! Yes, you want to finish your piece and get out to wherever it needs to go, but shortchanging the editing process is a surefire way to sending out writing that could be improved. You need some time away from a piece in order to come back to it with fresh eyes that can identify mistakes and areas to improve. Plan ahead so that you have time to let a piece “sit” for days or weeks before returning to it.

Endless revisions

This is the flip-side to the previous mistake. Some writers will tinker with a piece forever, with the end result that it’s never “finished” and therefore never gets published. There comes a time when you have to say it’s good enough and get it out the door.

Crutch words

Almost any writer will have certain words that get repeated far too often in their writing. They get so used to using them that they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Examine your own writing and see if you can identify certain words that you tend to use too often. Put the time and effort into finding more creative ways to say what you mean to say.

Unnatural phrasing

The best way to avoid this mistake is by reading what you’ve written out loud. You’ll be surprised at how many awkward phrases you come across. Take the time to fix each one and then read it out loud again. This is the best way to make sure your writing reads well.

Any of the above common mistakes can become ongoing patterns that make your writing weak. It does take time and effort to fix them, but if you want your writing to shine, the payoff is huge.