While this website is in the business of offering editing and proofreading services to any and all who would like to improve their papers, I also want to offer free tips and advice to help students and scholars improve their overall writing skills. Major projects like dissertations and journal articles may need my services, but smaller pieces of writing offer students a chance to hone their skills without such high stakes. These smaller writing assignments are more conducive to the advice offered in my blog posts and may not warrant professional proofing and editing. Therefore, I want to share some of the most common writing errors I have seen as well as a few mistakes that are often made by those whose first language is not English. I also want to share something that I often see in both formal writing and on social media that really annoys me and seems to trip up more people than I ever thought possible.
- Incorrect word: Some English words may sound the same, but have different spellings and different meanings. These words are referred to as homophones and can cause confusion when used improperly. For instance, the underlined word in the sentence Seeing a familiar face in a faraway land can elicit feelings of joy and comfort for many is often written as illicit. This spelling actually means forbidden by law, rules, or custom and would not make sense in the sentence above. For commonly confused homophones please refer to: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/top-20-most-commonly-confused-homophones.
- Sentence fragments and run-on sentences: This is a very common error and it detracts greatly from one’s writing. All sentences should always have a subject and a verb. Also, multiple sentences should not be run together. While one can have compound sentences that are separated by a conjunction and a common, one cannot run multiple ideas together into a literary Frankenstein’s monster.
- Random errors that arise from not proofreading one’s writing: Many writers fail to actually read what they have written, which often leads to numerous mistakes not visible to computer programs. Errors such as missing or duplicated words result from writers not reading their own paper thoroughly. Too many people rely on their software’s spellcheck and grammar check and fail to find many errors. It takes some extra time, but it is well worth the effort as it speaks to one’s inattention to detail when these errors are seen by a professor or peer reviewer.
English Language Specific (Although some of these are still made by many native English speakers):
- Incorrect use of adverbs and adjectives: Many will write I want to do good at the track meet when the word that should be used is well. A good resource to help in this area can be found at: http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/adjAdv.asp
- Wrong word order: Due to the differences in language many students write something like Is fixed the car that broke down? This shows that a writer is thinking in their native language, but writing in English. One fix for this is to have a native English speaker read the paper or manuscript in order to identify some of these issues.
- Incorrect plural nouns: These can include words like childrens and mooses. Again, this can often be fixed by having a native English speaker look at your paper before submission.
I will be writing about more of the most common errors in writing in the next few weeks, especially those that can be most helpful to non-native English speakers. However, I want to leave you with one final error that I have seen so many times. It makes me cringe every time I see it. It is more common this time of year with thunderstorms and people writing about the weather. This error is that of lightning vs. lightening. I see almost everyone refer to the major storm that hit and they discuss the lightening that took place. The discharge of electrical energy from the atmosphere is spelled lightning. The word lightening (notice the extra e) means to make light or lighter, illuminate, or brighten. It is only a difference of a single letter, but it is a distinction that I must share with my readers.