Most writing errors aren’t the result of ignorance, but are simply mistakes, mistakes that are easy to overlook. In this post I review some of the most basic errors, and ways to avoid them.
When you proofread your writing, you concentrate on the general idea and look to see if you’ve gotten it right. That’s the problem with proofreading your own work – you (and I) tend to glance over the words, missing the all-to-common errors.
Reality insists that we proof our own work, which is a problem. If you write a business letter, for example, you may not be able to find someone to give your work a look-over. It’s great if you have an editor, or at least a willing proofreader at your disposal. If you’re writing a book, don’t even think that you can be the only editor. That’s a big mistake, one that self-published authors often make. You must have an editor for your book; it’s that simple. Ideally you will use a professional paid editor, not the friendly neighbor who’s a retired English teacher.
Common misused words – These are homophones – They all sound alike
Even though you may understand the difference between these words, when proofreading it’s easy to miss them because they sound identical. Because our recollection of words is hard-wired into our brains, we simply don’t see these as mistakes.
- There, they’re, their
- There – refers to a place, physical or abstract, such as “Put the milk there.” It can also be used with any part of the word “be” (is, am, are, was, were) to show the existence of something, as in, “There is a parade on Main Street.”
- They’re – is a contraction for “they are.” “They’re coming to get me.”
- Their – is a plural possessive. “Their flag is beautiful.”
- It’s, its. This one is an all-time favorite because it’s so easy to miss when proofreading.
- “It’s” is a contraction for “It is.” “It’s a cold winter.”
- “Its” is a possessive. “Its color is purple.”
- You, your, you’re. When typing, it’s so easy to put in the word “you” when you meant to type “your” or “you’re.
- Your – A possessive. “Your business is doing great.”
- You’re – A contraction of “you are.” “You’re looking great today.”
- Tip. Do a search on the word “you.” Yes, it’s laborious, but you will find mistakes. Microsoft spell check thinks that you, your, you’re, its, and it’s are all just fine as long as they’re spelled correctly. It’s up to you the writer/editor to make sure they are used
- Repeaters (more often typos than grammatical errors)
- the the
- is is
- a a
- .. (two periods at the end of a sentence – or two commas in the middle).
- Tip – Just do a search on “the the,” “is is” and “a a.”
Let your writing sit for a while, a day if possible. Then you will come back to it with freshness. Stephen King recommends six weeks as cooling time to let a novel sit before you review it. Obviously this won’t work for business writing, but for any important business communication, put some time between you and your first draft.