If you're like most writers, you're probably making common blunders on a regular basis. Don't lose heart. Awareness is half the battle: By becoming alert to typical mistakes, you become less likely to make them.
Before you publish your next blog post or submit another magazine article, do yourself a favor and check it against this list. Below are seven tips that can help improve your writing:
1. Be mindful of accidental repeats.
You know that feeling of telling a friend a story and then realizing you've already shared it? It happens in writing, too. When you're not paying close attention, you might repeat a phrase, a story, or a point without realizing it. One good way to catch these accidental repeats is by reading your content aloud; often your ears catch mistakes that your eyes don't.
2. Avoid empty adverbs.
When you add "really" to a verb, what are you adding? Is calling something "very" cold better than calling it frosty, frigid, or icy? The truth is, many common adverbs are empty: They add little or nothing to the meaning of a sentence and only clutter your copy. Cut them out.
3. Don't use dangling modifiers.
Dangling modifiers are a classic symptom of writing exactly as we speak. Although casual, conversational language may contain dangling modifiers, written language should not; they muddy your message. A modifying phrase should immediately precede the thing it modifies. So, instead of writing, "Setting an editorial calendar, the blog mapped months of topics," write, "Setting an editorial calendar, the writer mapped months of topics on her blog." The blog is not setting the calendar; the writer is setting the calendar.
4. Which vs. that.
The words "which" and "that" are not interchangeable. Both begin clauses, but "which" clauses are unnecessary to the meaning of a sentence (and thus set off by commas) and "that" clauses are essential.
5. Steer clear of overly complex words.
Using overly complex words in place of simple ones is a perfect way to alienate your readers. Better to be clear and get your message across than to be fancy and lose your audience. When reading over your content, ask yourself whether the meaning is obvious. If not, rewrite.
6. Keep common misspellings in mind.
Most writers understand the difference between "your" and "you're," but it's all too easy to accidentally type one when you mean the other, especially if your spell-check program doesn't pick up the error. Be on guard for common misspellings such as these:
7. Your personal 'tells.'
A writing "tell" is like a poker "tell": It's something you regularly do -- without meaning to -- that gives you away. In poker, it might be the way you tap your fingers when you have a good hand; in writing, it might be the way you always use words like "just" or something else. Once you identify some of your overused words or other crutches, you need to ruthlessly cut them out. Using them once in a while is fine, but using them all the time dulls your writing.