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  • Writing Mistakes: Avoid These Common Mistakes

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    Are you worried about making writing mistakes? Even the most fluent prose or the most serious grounding in research can result in sloppy writing if you make amateurish mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling. These writing mistakes are common, especially among first-time writers. To polish your manuscript and ensure it has a professional tone, always perform a careful edit of your first draft, and root out these common writing mistakes when you find them.

    Writing Mistakes: Soundalike Words

    English is a difficult language to learn, largely because it contains large numbers of words that sound exactly alike but are spelled differently –and have entirely different meanings. This is frustrating for foreign speakers who are learning the language, and it’s equally frustrating for writers who mix up the spellings or the proper use of these words. Following are some common writing mistakes. Are you making them?


    The word “your” is a possessive. Here’s how to use it:

    • Your mother came over last night.
    • Where did you buy your new car?
    • Take your things and go.

    The word “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” It is used in descriptions, for instance:

    • You’re a very good friend to me.
    • You’re six foot tall and blond.

    It can also be used with a verb to indicate an ongoing action:

    • Because of your jealousy, you’re losing her.
    • You’re losing your hair, I see.


    This is one of the most common writing mistakes people make. To avoid making it, remember that “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” You can use it anywhere that saying “it is” would be correct, for instance:

    • It’s time to go.
    • It’s difficult to see the ships through the fog.
    • It’s short, in fact, it’s only about three inches tall.
    • Is it true? Yes, it’s true.

    The word “its,” with no apostrophe, is the possessive form of it. If you’re referring to something that’s owned by an inanimate object, use this form:

    • The company gave a huge raise to all its employees.
    • While a small city, Annapolis certainly has its charms.

    Incorrect Capitalization

    Many writers seem to think that anything important needs to be capitalized. In truth, only the following need to be capitalized:

    • Proper names (Josephine Smith, Bill Clinton, Raymond Chandler).
    • Geographical locations (America, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Zimbabwe, St. Louis).
    • Formal government, noble, royal, or military titles that precede a name (President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, General Douglas MacArthur). Titles that don’t precede a name must not be capitalized (“The queen enjoyed a gin and tonic on occasion,” or “Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States.”)
    • Days of the week or months of the year (Monday, December).
    • Names of artistic or published works, including periodicals (The Last Supper, National Geographic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).
    • Recognized periods of history (the Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the Victorian era).

    Don’t capitalize:

    • Job titles like chief executive officer, treasurer, vice president, or manager.
    • The word “the” unless it is part of the official title (The Johns Hopkins University—but also, the Mona Lisa, the New York Times, the Pleistocene Era).

    Writing Mistakes: Frequently Confused Words

    Do your writing mistakes involve these words that sound alike and are almost spelled alike? Don’t mix them up.


    These words are not interchangeable, but mixing them is one of the most common writing mistakes editors repeatedly see. To keep them straight, remember that “effect” is a noun, and “affect” is a verb (with one exception that we’ll note below).

    The word “affect” means to act on something and produce a result:

    • Lack of sunshine can negatively affect your mood.
    • Her innocent laughter affected us all and made us smile.

    The word “effect” refers to changes caused when things happen. To use it properly:

    • Smoking can have a negative effect on every part of your body.
    • The effects of trauma can last a lifetime.

    They say exceptions prove the rule, and that’s true here, too. The word “affect” (pronounced AFF-ect) is also a noun meaning the way someone behaves, as in, “She had a flat affect.” This is not typically used in regular writing for the public, however, and should be saved for scholarly publications.

    Also, you may see “effect” used as a verb (as in the phrase, “effected changes,”) but this is primarily used in legal writing or as corporate jargon. Avoid it in normal writing.


    One little letter can make a big difference. Then is used to indicate an element of time, usually meaning “at that time, next, or at that moment.”

    • Let’s talk later, then you can tell me all about it.
    • Right then, Anne decided to dump Jake.
    • I talked to Barnabas last week, but l haven’t heard from him since then.

    The word can also be used to indicate a consequence or a follow-up action:

    • If we hadn’t slept in, then we would be on time.
    • If you’re not going to the wedding, then you had better tell her.

    The word “than” is used to make comparisons:

    • Sydney is a much better dancer than Brian is.
    • The lake is further away than the beach.
    • We need more money than he can earn.

    Fewer/Less and More

    Many people mix up these terms. To make it simple, remember that “fewer” refers to specific numbers of people or things, otherwise known as “countable nouns”:

    • Six piglets are fewer than three piglets.
    • There are more people in the arena today than there were yesterday.
    • Fewer people showed up than we expected.
    • You have fewer pencils than I do.

    The word “less” is used with uncountable nouns, ides, or to emphasize degrees:

    • I make less money than he does.
    • He does less work than anyone here.
    • The more he stuck around, the less she liked him.

    Use a Stylebook to Catch Writing Mistakes

    Most professions have stylebooks that dictate the specific rules of punctuation, capitalization, and word usage that their publications require. While most stylebooks are available in digital formats, many professional writers keep a well-worn printed copy of their favorite stylebook—along with a dictionary and a thesaurus—on their writing desk.

    Would a stylebook help you? Here are the most used stylebooks for writers to avoid writing mistakes.

    Associated Press (AP)

    The AP Stylebook is the lodestar for anyone who writes for newspapers, magazines, online magazines, blogs, and all publications that are intended for a general audience. It emphasizes a simple, streamlined style that is easy to understand and looks uncluttered on the page. The AP guide is constantly evolving to keep up with trends in the world and in language.

    American Psychological Association (APA)

    The APA stylebook is a guide for scholarly publishers in psychology and the social sciences. It provides rules for citing references and other style issues. The guidebook emphasizes concision, clarity, and inclusive language in its rules.

    Chicago Manual of Style

    An all-purpose and highly regarded stylebook, the Chicago Manual is used by many professional publications. If a stylebook doesn’t cover a particular point, most publishers defer to the Chicago rules. It’s a useful guide for any writer on any subject.

    Modern Language Association (MLA) Handbook

    This stylebook is used by academic writers who want to publish in the fields of literature and the arts. It covers citations, references, and more, and is required by many academic journals.

    This guide was first published in 2000 as a style guide for legal papers and publications aimed at lawyers. It has largely replaced the bulky, hard-to-use “Bluebook” that was the bane of many law students.

    Steer Clear of Writing Mistakes to Become a Stronger Writer

    As you develop your writing skills, you’ll get better at stopping writing mistakes before they sit on the page. With practice, you’ll also get better at editing your work. Use these tips as a checklist on your next piece of writing, and consider getting a stylebook to avoid writing mistakes.

    We hope you found these tips useful. If we can help with any aspect of your professional printing needs, contact us at Dazzle Printing.


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