7 Common Writing Errors – And How to Avoid Them

An avid reader, I’ve stumbled across numerous writing errors over the years. And I’ll admit to making my share. But I still try for error-free copy. Other writers will attest to having “sensitive eyes” toward writing errors. Just natural, I guess.

At the same time, I like to educate others on common writing mistakes and how to avoid them. I hope you can learn from the following list.

This is not a comprehensive review of grammatical errors. Whole books and college courses are needed for that. Instead, what follows are the more common mistakes I have seen. Errors have appeared in emails, online articles, and other platforms. (With the exception of the passage about ‘its’, all are actual examples.)

All of us — and I include myself — make a mistake on occasion. By studying these issues and others that exist, we can become better writers. That should be our goal. What we write (and say, for that matter) is a reflection of us. Always strive for error-free copy.

In no particular order, here are my 7 common errors in writing.

How to properly use your and you’re

The error comes when writing your when the context calls for you’re.
Example: “Your very welcome!”

The correct word is you’re.
“You’re very welcome!”

is a possessive pronoun.
You’re is a contraction for ‘you are’ and, sometimes, ‘you were’.

It is possible to use both in a sentence. One example:
“You’re going to love your new home.”

How to state a time range

I see this kind of writing quite often:
“We will be out at the site this Friday between 8-10 am.”

What this person is saying, essentially, is “We will be out at the site this Friday between 8 to 10 a.m.”
Does that sound right? Is that how you’d say that sentence?

Of course not.

You’d say, “We will be out at the site this Friday between 8 and 10 a.m.” That’s how to write the above statement.

If you want to use the dash/hyphen (which stands for ‘to’), substitute ‘between’ for ‘from’:
“We will be out at the site this Friday from 8 – 10 a.m.”

Avoid run-on sentences, comma splices

It seems that America has forgotten its rules of punctuation. Many punctuation marks are available, but judging from what I see today, it’s as if people have simply forgotten about the period. Yes, the comma is now a catch-all punctuation mark.

Example: “Please reset your password right away, this link will expire in 12 hours.”

That first part is a complete sentence. The proper punctuation mark is a period:
“Please reset your password right away. This link will expire in 12 hours.”

If need be, refresh your memory on punctuation marks.
At least remember to use the period. In many cases it is the proper punctuation mark.

Know where to place question mark with a quotation

Speaking of punctuation marks, the question mark sometimes ends up in the wrong spot when the sentence contains a quotation.

Here’s the rule: If the sentence is a question, the question mark goes at the end — outside of everything.

This example comes from a small sign in a restaurant:
Did someone say “Fish Fry?”

Disregard the quotation marks and the letter capping. (Fodder, perhaps, for another post.) For now, I want to focus on the location of the question mark. It should be outside the quotation marks, because it applies to the the entire sentence, which is a question.

Correct version: Did someone say “Fish Fry”?

It is possible to have a question mark inside and outside quotation marks. It just depends on the context. For example:
Did you see the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”?

There can be only one first time

I spotted this in a newspaper article:
“Weaver said when they first bought the island,….”

He bought the island just one time. He didn’t sell it, and then repurchase. In a case like this, eliminate the ‘first’:
“Weaver said when they bought the island,….”

You’ll see these kinds of statements as well:
“When we were first married…” (But they are still married; never got divorced.)
“When we first moved in….” (Like the island example, this couple bought a home and have been there ever since.)

If the event occurred more than once, it’s proper to use ‘first’ when referring to the initial event. Let’s say a couple gets divorced, then remarries. When speaking of wedding #1, it’s OK to say, “When we were first married….”

Know the difference between its and it’s

People sometimes get confused about this simple, three-letter word, especially when using the pronoun.

It’s is short for “it is” and “it has” as in:
It’s time for us to consider a new marketing strategy.
It’s been a long time since we’ve spoken.

Its is a possessive pronoun, and has no apostrophe. (Same as for hers.)
The best part of this model is its ability to withstand high pressures.
Our building has lost its luster over the years.

An average cannot be a range

I spotted this in a newspaper article:

“The agency, which says it receives an average of 5,000 to 10,000 calls a week….”

No. The average (all things being equal) would be 7,500.
An average is an absolute number, not a range. By definition an average (along with median) is a hard number. (Ah, that algebra again….)

Possible solutions:
“The agency, which says it receives 5,000 to 10,000 calls a week….”
“The agency, which says it receives an average of 7,500 calls a week….”

It is possible to use average in a sentence. Just do so correctly.

Along these lines, be careful when you use median to describe a collection of data.
Median is the midpoint in the data: 50 percent of the values are above/greater and 50 percent are below/lesser.

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