As proclaimed by American writer Roy Peter Clark, “Grammar is the clothes that words wear.” There’s some degree of personal choice in grammar, but there are also rules and expectations.
Think of grammar errors as walking through town with a mismatched pair of shoes: it’s not illegal, but it sure can be confusing.
The mistakes we often see in professional writing are no different. Don’t feel bad if you’re not a grammar expert – no one is.
It takes time and practice to understand how to avoid errors, and even then, you’ll probably still slip up in some areas.
While perfection isn’t the goal, avoiding grammar mistakes where you can helps you communicate clearly. And when you master the rules, you can start to play with them as well, and find different ways to express yourself.
These five grammar pet peeves are easy to fix but can drastically impact your writing. Let’s look at how to spot and eliminate them.
1.) Wordiness and Redundancy
One of the most common mistakes that developing and experienced writers make is using too many words.
Wordiness can be tricky to spot. Even seemingly concise sentences can still be stuffed with more than they need to convey their message.
In the example below, about half of the words are unnecessary. They don’t add any true meaning to the sentence.
Example: In my personal experience, which comes from years of watching movies, I believe that the new action film we saw last night at the theater wasn’t up to par for this director. The main issue, at least for me, was that the plot was confusing, and the characters were very one-dimensional, flat, and even unrelatable.
If we remove them, we still get the same message: the movie was underwhelming.
How to Fix It
If you know you tend to be long-winded in your writing, look for opportunities to be more concise.
We can trim it by identifying words a sentence can’t function without.
Better: I don’t think the new action movie we saw was up to par for this director. The plot was confusing, and the characters weren’t developed well.
We can easily shave it in half by eliminating words that say a lot but add nothing to the sentence’s meaning.
2.) Punctuation Errors: Commas, Semi-Colons, and More
Incorrectly using punctuation to break up sentences is an easy mistake, even if you’re a seasoned writer.
Example: I love watching movies, my favorite genre is action.
In this example, we find a comma splice.
A comma combines an independent (can stand on its own) clause and a dependent clause (can’t stand on its own). Above, it’s used to combine two independent clauses.
Example: Having washed the dishes, the computer was my next stop.
However, in this sentence, a dangling modifier is the problem. Dangling modifiers are misleading because they don’t modify a word that makes sense.
In the example above, the sentence makes it seem like the computer is the one who washed the dishes, not the speaker. The first phrase should instead modify “I,” the subject.
Simple errors like this might seem like no big deal. In reality, they often aren’t.
Sometimes, simple miscommunications can lead to vastly different interpretations than a writer intended.
How to Fix It
To fix a comma splice, ask yourself whether the clauses you combine are complete sentences or thoughts.
In our example from above, we have two independent ideas that make sense on their own: “I love watching movies” and “My favorite genre is action.”
We can combine them with other punctuation options like periods or semicolons.
- I love watching movies. My favorite genre is action.
- I love watching movies; my favorite genre is action.
For our second example, all we need to do is reorder the words to clarify who washed the dishes.
Better: Having washed the dishes, I headed to the computer.
3.) Tense Switching and Word Confusion
Switching tenses mid-sentence or -paragraph makes it difficult for readers to understand when something happened.
Example: I walked into the hotel, and the doorman comes to greet me.
In this example, it’s impossible to tell if the action happened in the past or present. It still sounds awkward, even if we can make an educated guess.
How to Fix It
Use consistent tenses throughout your sentences and piece. You can switch tenses by introducing the change with certain trigger words (such as “Thinking back, I feel good about my progress.”)
- I walked into the hotel, and the doorman came to greet me.
- I walk into the hotel, and the doorman comes to greet me.
To fix this example, we can choose either past or present tense and stick with it.
4.) Unreliable Sources and Improper In-Text Citations
It’s challenging to cite resources correctly. If you struggle to keep up with all the requirements that come into play, you’re not alone.
But using unreliable sources and citing things incorrectly can be a real problem if you publish your writing.
How to Fix It
If your source isn’t peer-reviewed, written by experts, and legitimate, it’s not the one to choose.
Always prioritize resources that tick the boxes above over those that don’t.
When in doubt, look it up! You’re certainly not less of a writer if you do.
5.) Style and Format Inconsistencies
When you write for the web, style and format are functional parts of your piece.
Inconsistencies in this area can be obvious to readers. They’re equivalent to reading one chapter in a particular font and tone, then turning the page to see something entirely different.
How to Fix It
Develop a style guide and template for your writing and stick to it.
Cover all of your bases for the best results. Will your sentences be short? Long? How will you break up text? What sort of voice will you write with?
Work ahead in this area to save yourself time and editing down the road.
At Inkless, we’re no strangers to spotting and fixing grammar mistakes. Luckily, our passion for producing unique, engaging content that’s easy to read makes it all worth it.