Common Writing Errors

Grammar and Usage Red Flags

Writing errors cause readers to lose focus on the topic of the document, knowing common writing errors and how to avoid them helps readers understand the subject.

In today’s technological world of instant messaging and online chatting, grammar and usage errors run rampant. All essay writers emphasize that these errors often spill over into written documents, making the author appear to be either careless or unconcerned about the content of their writing.

Many of the mistakes made are common writing errors that can be avoided if writers understand simple writing concepts and know the red flags to look for to avoid those errors. If these errors are not addressed readers will be distracted from the content of the writing and have a difficult time following the content.

Common Errors and How to Avoid Them

Often, errors are made in word usage due to words sounding alike. This mistake can easily be made by even the most polished writer. Some common word choice errors include the following:

  • Adverse or averse: These two words sound very similar yet have distinctly different meanings. Adverse is defined as unfavorable or harmful and averse is defined as reluctant or opposed.
  • Affect or effect: These two words are among the most commonly confused and misused words in the English vocabulary and these are not picked up by grammar or spell checkers. An easy way to remember which word to use is that effect is an action and effect is the result. There are a few exceptions, such as in very informal writing and medical terminology.
  • Composed of and comprise: Compose is defined as ‘to create or produce by putting something together. Comprise is defined as ‘to consist of’. Writers often inadvertently use the wrong one in their documents.
  • Hopefully: Another of the most misused words in the English language, hopefully, is mistakenly used to mean ‘with hopeful feelings’; however, it is often used in such a manner that an inanimate object is being designated as having feelings. For example, “hopefully, my project will not fail.” In this sentence, the project is hoping not to fail. What the writer intended was, “I hope my project will not fail.”
  • Regardless of regardless: Regardless is always the correct choice in writing regardless is nonstandard usage and should be avoided, particularly in business writing.

Broad Pronouns

Broad pronouns refer to those pronouns that are unspecific. Words that are considered broad pronouns include this, that, those, them, and it. They are called broad because, in a sentence, it is often difficult for the reader to know what the writer means. Broad pronouns make for vague writing.

Here is an example of a broad pronoun used in a sentence: “I think this is a good solution.” Readers are left wondering what “this” is. Here is a better way to write the sentence: “I think this idea proposed by the students is a good idea.” When someone reads the second sentence, there is no question about what “this” is. Writers can usually avoid confusion by making sure that this, that, and those are always followed by a noun (“this plate,” “that television,” “those cats”).

Writers should try to clarify their message, avoiding vague language in their writing; otherwise, readers will be confused or misunderstand. A writer should always aim to make his intent clear.

One last example: “Take the disks out of the computers and fix them.” What does the reader need to fix-the disks or the computers? By clarifying one’s sentence, readers will not have to wonder.

Subject-Pronoun Disagreement

In today’s colloquial speech, many people will often make the mistake of having their subject and pronoun disagree. In an academic paper, however, both the subject and pronoun must be singular or plural.

Here is an example of subject-pronoun disagreement: “A parent should not spank their child because the child will then fear their parent.” “A parent” and “their” as well as “the child” and “their” disagree. “A parent” is a singular subject, but “their” is a plural pronoun. Both the subject and pronoun must be either singular or plural. A correct way to write this sentence follows: “A parent should not spank his child because the child will then fear her parent.”

Many instructors are not particular about the pronoun a student uses. Students can often use the generic he and his or they can switch pronouns around in the politically correct fashion by also incorporating she and her. Some instructors don’t mind if students use s/he and his/her. Their main concern is that the subject and pronoun agree.

It is often difficult to find these errors, but a writer can sometimes catch these kinds of mistakes by reading through his paper and looking for “they” and “there,” then finding the original word the pronoun is referring to.

These are just a few of the most common grammar and usage errors. There are many more errors that writers should know and learn to recognize.

All people should be conscientious of their writing skills to keep their readers engaged in what they are reading. Instant messaging and chatting online have an entirely different set of grammar rules, or lack thereof, and should not be used in writing.

Learning to recognize these and other common grammar errors will enhance writing skills and keep readers focused on the subject at hand.

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