9 common writing gaffes
I once got chatted up in an airport by an English professor because I was reading a book called The Elements of Style. I wasn't reading it for its pulling power. I was reading it because it's about good writing. Important for me as a copywriter, of course. But just as important for you, whatever you write. These are some of the common glitches I come across and how to avoid them...
- Steer clear of letter collision – all it takes is a hyphen for “deice” to become “de-ice” and for “outthink” to turn into “out-think”.
- Get rid of redundant words. What use is “past” before “history” or “trained” to describe a “professional”?
- There’s only one company, so choose “is” rather than “are” when writing about it. As in “WordsWork is one organisation, however many people work for it” - only one actually, but don’t let that confuse you.
- “1990s” doesn’t need an apostrophe before the ‘s’. That damn apostrophe - I’ll come back to it in a future blog – I answer at least a query a week on its whereabouts.
- There are far too many capital letters floating around. An aggravated friend sent me an email she’d received from her boss. I quote… “The Next Steps are to execute the Plan we formulated at last week’s Team Meeting.” The only one he needed was the one that started the sentence.
- Unnecessarily long words are rife too. Who wants to sound stuffy and up themselves, when they can sound friendly and approachable?
Instead of this what’s wrong with this? Approximately About Frequently Often Methodology Method Additionally And Commence Start
- Avoid the coulds, shoulds, woulds and mays. As in “I could put that presentation together by Friday.” The reader can usually sniff out a “but” coming his way. And they make the writer sound like what my Granny called “a shilly-shallier”.
- The active voice sounds more positive and energetic than the passive. “Our turnover doubled in 2010” sounds as if the employees took no action to help it along. “We doubled our turnover in 2010” has much more impact. But the passive mode can come in handy. As I sometimes write to my clients, “my invoice hasn’t been paid.”
- Cut down on ampersands – it’s fine to use them as part of a proper noun (e.g. W H Smith & Son), but not as a shortcut for “and” in running text (as in “bread & butter”).
- Sometimes there is no hard and fast rule. Make one. And stick to it. Inconsistency makes people think you don’t care. And if he doesn’t care about words, they reason, will he care about customers?
- As for the English professor. No reader, I didn’t marry him. Or even get his phone number. But I did have a rather good sabbatical on the round the world ticket I bought with the money I made from good writing.
Find out more:
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E B White