Polish Up Your Writing

Get rid of these 10 common writing mistakes

Sometimes, the easiest part about being a writer is the ability to pluck out the words from your head exactly as you want them to be. But often, this same feat can prove a nuisance — you simply have too many ideas, and you don’t know which you like best.

Most of us are under the illusion that whatever we put into words qualify as “writing”. What we fail to realise is that writing, like any other form of art, requires perfection.

Isabella Bunnell / © Culture Trip

But remember, “perfection” is an art in itself. What is perfect for you may be imperfect for me, and vice versa. The trick is to write in a way that captivates your readers.

Readers expect to read a writer’s best work, and when it is pockmarked with minute but noticeable grammar errors, you lose your readership. When you spare a few minutes to correct the flaws in your piece, you’re automatically portraying your invaluable ideas in the best possible way — even if you, as the writer, are still unsatisfied.

The list below will help you see that there are some mistakes you never even knew were mistakes, while also helping you polish up your writing with a few useful tips.

1. Subject-verb agreement

When writing even a simple sentence, the subject and the verb must agree with each other in number. If the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular. The same applies to when the subject is plural.

Incorrect:

1. A group of first-years were made to stand side by side.

2. Either Harry or Cedric are likely to be the finalist.

3. The Forbidden Forest, along with the Shrieking Shack, are out-of-bounds for students.

Correct:

1. A group of first-years was made to stand side by side.

2. Either Harry or Cedric is likely to be the finalist.

3. The Forbidden Forest, along with the Shrieking Shack, is out-of-bounds for students.

(When a subject is separated from the verb with words such as along with, besides, not, and as well as, they’re not part of the subject and must be ignored when using the verb.)

2. Semicolon/colon usage

A semicolon is used when connecting two separate thoughts (two independent clauses). It is stronger than a comma but weaker than a period. A colon is used to introduce lists, explanations, or conclusions.

Examples:

1. King T’Challa is very rich; in fact, he’s richer than Tony Stark.

2. The original Avengers were: Ironman, aka Tony Stark; Captain America, aka Steve Rogers; Hulk, aka Bruce Banner; Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff; and Hawkeye, aka Clint Barton.

3. Parallelism

A sentence needs to have the same grammatical structure. In simpler terms, each element must be in the same form.

Incorrect:

1. Wylan likes painting, singing, and to make weapons.

2. Kaz went through his plans briefly, efficiently, and in a detailed manner.

Correct:

1. Wylan likes painting, singing, and making weapons.

OR: Wylan likes to paint, to sing, and to make weapons/Wylan likes to paint, sing, and make weapons.

2. Kaz went through his plans briefly, efficiently, and thoroughly.

4. Incomplete sentences

In most of today’s YA literature, the use of incomplete sentences has become dominant. While it makes the characters appear more relatable (after all, we don’t think in perfectly structured sentences in our heads), it nevertheless disrupts grammar rules. A sentence is comprised of three things: a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. An incomplete sentence — or a “sentence fragment” — occurs when at least one of these three elements is missing.

Incorrect: Percy began to fear the ocean. Even though he was the son of Poseidon.

Correct: Percy began to fear the ocean, even though he was the son of Poseidon.

5. Punctuation: Inside or outside of quotation marks?

This is, in fact, quite a simple rule. In American English, the punctuation goes inside quotation marks, while in British English it goes outside.

American: “My first name was never Locke,” said Lamora.

British: “My first name was never Locke”, said Lamora.

6. Comma splices

To join two independent sentences/clauses, a semicolon must be used. But if you want to use a comma, use it with a conjunction — because a comma alone is not strong enough. You can even leave them as two separate sentences.

Incorrect: A storm was coming, they stopped playing.

Correct: A storm was coming; they stopped playing.

OR: A storm was coming, so they stopped playing.

OR: A storm was coming. They stopped playing.

7. Beware of gobbledegook

While working on an important piece, we all suffer from the desire to add as many colourful words as possible. But beware — if your pretty words weren’t contributing anything to the sentence, you could be using gobbledegook.

Drop the unnecessary words and phrases. Your writing will be much clearer by the end.

Some words/phrases to get rid of:

  • Each and every (use “daily” instead!)
  • Just — my sentence works just fine. (Notice how, without the “just”, the sentence still makes perfect sense.)
  • As a matter of fact
  • During the course of
  • In the process of
  • For all intents and purposes

8. Find synonyms; stop repeating

During those long and exhausting Literature classes, one lesson that was constantly drilled into our subconscious minds was: stop repeating. Even the best analysis can sound dull and lifeless if the same words were used over and over again.

Ex: Tolkien was an extraordinary writer. His books delve deep into an extraordinary world full of complex characters and plotlines — in fact, Tolkien is considered to be the inspiration behind modern fantasy books.

Better: Tolkien was an extraordinary writer. His books delve deep into a remarkable world full of complex characters and plotlines he is considered to be the inspiration behind modern fantasy stories.

9. Drop your ellipses (…)

The ellipsis (the three dots) is often misunderstood in the context of their usage. You don’t use them at the end of nearly every sentence, as I’ve seen some people do. Much like a comma or a semicolon, the ellipses also serves a particular purpose.

When to use the ellipsis:

  • To indicate a missing piece of text

When quoting a chunk of text from a document, you can use the ellipsis to omit the phrases that are irrelevant to what you’re trying to convey.

Ex: “I see him, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name … to this place.”

In the sentence above, the words “the forehead that I know and golden hair” have been omitted from the text in A Tale of Two Cities.

  • In informal writing, it can be used to indicate a pause in dialogue or a character trailing off

Ex:

“I … I don’t understand,” she stammered.

The quest could not succeed without him. Or could it …?

10. Get a proofreader

One thing I dislike is having to go through my work once I’m done. I would end up devising a thousand alternative ways of conveying the same idea, and hence, self-editing becomes an endless task.

What I do is to send my draft to my sister and ask her to go through it very thoroughly. If there were grammar errors or spelling mistakes that I’ve overlooked, she would correct me.

It also pays to receive some encouraging comments!

The rules of grammar are so many that it is impossible to keep track of them all. But learn to identify the most important ones, and they will automatically polish up your writing for you.

Polish Up Your Writing

Get rid of these 10 common writing mistakes

Sometimes, the easiest part about being a writer is the ability to pluck out the words from your head exactly as you want them to be. But often, this same feat can prove a nuisance — you simply have too many ideas, and you don’t know which you like best.

Most of us are under the illusion that whatever we put into words qualify as “writing”. What we fail to realise is that writing, like any other form of art, requires perfection.

But remember, “perfection” is an art in itself. What is perfect for you may be imperfect for me, and vice versa. The trick is to write in a way that captivates your readers.

Readers expect to read a writer’s best work, and when it is pockmarked with minute but noticeable grammar errors, you lose your readership. When you spare a few minutes to correct the flaws in your piece, you’re automatically portraying your invaluable ideas in the best possible way — even if you, as the writer, are still unsatisfied.

The list below will help you see that there are some mistakes you never even knew were mistakes, while also helping you polish up your writing with a few useful tips.

1. Subject-verb agreement

When writing even a simple sentence, the subject and the verb must agree with each other in number. If the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular. The same applies to when the subject is plural.

Incorrect:

1. A group of first-years were made to stand side by side.

2. Either Harry or Cedric are likely to be the finalist.

3. The Forbidden Forest, along with the Shrieking Shack, are out-of-bounds for students.

Correct:

1. A group of first-years was made to stand side by side.

2. Either Harry or Cedric is likely to be the finalist.

3. The Forbidden Forest, along with the Shrieking Shack, is out-of-bounds for students.

(When a subject is separated from the verb with words such as along with, besides, not, and as well as, they’re not part of the subject and must be ignored when using the verb.)

2. Semicolon/colon usage

A semicolon is used when connecting two separate thoughts (two independent clauses). It is stronger than a comma but weaker than a period. A colon is used to introduce lists, explanations, or conclusions.

Examples:

1. King T’Challa is very rich; in fact, he’s richer than Tony Stark.

2. The original Avengers were: Ironman, aka Tony Stark; Captain America, aka Steve Rogers; Hulk, aka Bruce Banner; Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff; and Hawkeye, aka Clint Barton.

3. Parallelism

A sentence needs to have the same grammatical structure. In simpler terms, each element must be in the same form.

Incorrect:

1. Wylan likes painting, singing, and to make weapons.

2. Kaz went through his plans briefly, efficiently, and in a detailed manner.

Correct:

1. Wylan likes painting, singing, and making weapons.

OR: Wylan like to paint, to sing, and to make weapons/Wylan like to paint, sing, and make weapons.

2. Kaz went through his plans briefly, efficiently, and thoroughly.

4. Incomplete sentences

In most of today’s YA literature, the use of incomplete sentences has become dominant. While it makes the characters appear more relatable (after all, we don’t think in perfectly structured sentences in our heads), it nevertheless disrupts grammar rules. A sentence is comprised of three things: a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. An incomplete sentence — or a “sentence fragment” — occurs when at least one of these three elements is missing.

Incorrect: Percy began to fear the ocean. Even though he was the son of Poseidon.

Correct: Percy began to fear the ocean, even though he was the son of Poseidon.

5. Punctuation: Inside or outside of quotation marks?

This is, in fact, quite a simple rule. In American English, the punctuation goes inside quotation marks, while in British English it goes outside.

American: “My first name was never Locke,” said Lamora.

British: “My first name was never Locke”, said Lamora.

6. Comma splices

To join two independent sentences/clauses, a semicolon must be used. But if you really want to use a comma, use it with a conjunction — because a comma alone is not strong enough. You can even leave them as two separate sentences.

Incorrect: A storm was coming, they stopped playing.

Correct: A storm was coming; they stopped playing.

OR: A storm was coming, so they stopped playing.

OR: A storm was coming. They stopped playing.

7. Beware of gobbledegook

While working on an important piece, we all suffer from the desire to add as many colourful words as possible. But beware — if your pretty words weren’t contributing anything to the sentence, you could be using gobbledegook.

Drop the unnecessary words and phrases. Your writing will be much clearer by the end.

Some words/phrases to get rid of:

  • Each and every (use “daily” instead!)
  • Just — my sentence works just fine. (Notice how, without the “just”, the sentence still makes perfect sense.)
  • As a matter of fact
  • During the course of
  • In the process of
  • For all intents and purposes

8. Find synonyms; stop repeating

During those long and exhausting Literature classes, one lesson that was constantly drilled into our subconscious minds was: stop repeating. Even the best analysis can sound dull and lifeless if the same words were used over and over again.

Ex: Tolkien was an extraordinary writer. His books delve deep into an extraordinary world full of complex characters and plotlines — in fact, Tolkien is considered to be the inspiration behind modern fantasy books.

Better: Tolkien was an extraordinary writer. His books delve deep into a remarkable world full of complex characters and plotlines — in fact, he is considered to be the inspiration behind modern fantasy stories.

9. Drop your ellipses (…)

The ellipsis (the three dots) is often misunderstood in the context of their usage. You don’t use them at the end of nearly every sentence, as I’ve seen some people do. Much like a comma or a semicolon, the ellipses also serves a particular purpose.

When to use the ellipsis:

  • To indicate a missing piece of text

When quoting a chunk of text from a document, you can use the ellipsis to omit the phrases that are irrelevant to what you’re trying to convey.

Ex: “I see him, foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name … to this place.”

In the sentence above, the words “the forehead that I know and golden hair” have been omitted from the text in A Tale of Two Cities.

  • In informal writing, it can be used to indicate a pause in dialog or a character trailing off

Ex:

“I … I don’t understand,” she stammered.

The quest could not succeed without him. Or could it … ?

10. Get a proofreader

One thing I dislike is having to go through my work once I’m done. I would end up devising a thousand alternative ways of conveying the same idea, and hence, self-editing becomes an endless task.

What I do is to send my draft to my sister and ask her to go through it very thoroughly. If there were grammar errors or spelling mistakes that I’ve overlooked, she would correct me.

It also pays to receive some encouraging comments!

The rules of grammar are so many that it is impossible to keep track of them all. But learn to identify the most important ones, and they will automatically polish up your writing for you.

One Comment Add yours

  1. AleenaTJ says:

    This is actually so useful!

    Like

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