by Alexis Grant
1. Using that when you should use who
Whenever you write about people, refer to them using who, not that.
John is the guy who always forgets his shoes, not the guy that always forgets his shoes.
It’s easy to make this mistake because that has become acceptable in everyday conversations. But it’s more noticeable when it’s written down — or maybe it only jumps out to us grammar geeks?
2. Including the word currently in your bio
The word currently is virtually always redundant. (Can you tell this is one of my pet peeves?) But let’s focus on your bio, because that’s where most writers fail on this one.
Don’t write: “Tom Jones is currently a communications director.” If Tom Jones is anything, he’s that at that moment; you don’t need “currently” to clarify.
Just get rid of it.
3. Starting a sentence with There is or There are
This isn’t an actual error, but it’s often a symptom of lazy writing.
There are lots of better, more interesting ways to start sentences.
Ooops. See how easy it is to make this mistake?
Instead of starting a sentence with There is, try turning the phrase around to include a verb or start with you. For example, replace the sentence above with Start your sentences in a more interesting way.
If your copy includes a lot of phrases that begin with there is or there are, put some time into rewriting most of them.
4. Writing bullets that don’t match up
Bullet points are a popular and effective way to organize complex ideas. Just make sure your bullets correspond to one another.
For example, since this piece calls for 10 mistakes, each item needs to be something you don’t want to do. Too often, writers mix and match mistakes with what you should do or make transition to shoulds halfway through the post — which only confuses the reader.
If your piece is called 3 Career Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make, here’s a bullet point that works:
- Forgetting to tailor your resume each time you apply for a job
Here’s one that doesn’t work (because it’s not actually a mistake — the writer inadvertedly switched to what you should do):
- Make sure you tailor your resume
Likewise, if you’re offering “tips for writing while balancing on your head,” make sure the bullets are actually tips, ideas that start with an action verb, not “sitting on your head helps you think better.” That’s a reason to write while balancing on your head, not a tip for how to do it.
Often you can turn any idea into a tip by adding a verb. For example: “Remember that sitting on your head helps you write better.”
Make your bullet points consistent and your writing will read more smoothly.
5. Not using contractions
Which sounds more personable: I am heading to the market that is close to my house, or I’m heading to the market that’s close to my house?
Contractions make your writing sound friendlier, like you’re (not you are) a real person. And that makes it easier to connect with readers.
Contractions can also make your post easier to read and comprehend. So go out of your way to include them in your posts! Your editor will thank you.
6. Falling into the ing trap
“We were starting to …” or “She was skiing toward …” Whenever you see an ing in your copy, think twice about whether you need it — because you probably don’t.
Instead, get rid of were or was, then eliminate that ing and replace it with past tense: “We started to …” or “She skied toward …”
Pruning excessive “ings” makes your writing clearer and easier to read.
7. Adding a comma after that
When used as a descriptor, the word which takes a comma. But the word that doesn’t.
For example: “We went to the house that collapsed yesterday” or “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday.”
Confused about when to use that vs. which? Grammar Girl offers a great explanation.
8. Using over rather than more than
Over 200 people did not like your Facebook page — More than 200 people did.
Of course, everyone will know what you mean if you use over. But using more than is one of those little details that will help your writing shine.
9. Forgetting to hyphenate modifiers
Whenever you modify a noun with more than one word, you need a hyphen. Lots of people don’t follow this rule, so it’s a great way to show you actually walk the walk.
That means you need a hyphen if you’re writing about full-time work. But you don’t need one if you’re working full time. Got it?
The exception: No need to hyphenate modifiers that end in “ly.” Those are OK on their own. So your newly hired employee doesn’t need that hyphen.
10. Writing could care less when you actually mean youcouldn’t care less
Which is exactly how some people probably feel about this post.
But you? You’re a writer who writes clean copy. And following these suggestions, as picky as they may be, will help you create content that’s clearer and easier to read … and that makes it that much easier to share.