If you’re one of those people who would rather get your teeth drilled than write a report, take heart: you’re not alone. Many people find writing hard and, at times, a little embarrassing; as a writer and editor, I find some mistakes show up more often than others. Here are the three most common writing mistakes I see, along with suggestions, where possible, for a quick fix.
- Problems with Content
Getting the content right is key to writing with impact. Include too much information and you dilute your message; too little detail makes your piece seem fluffy. Organize any of it poorly and you risk confusing your readers.Here’s the quick fix:Before you start writing, jot down points for:
- an introduction (name your topic, why it’s important, and how you’re going to approach it)
- the main body of your article or report (these points should include everything you think your reader needs to know)
- exactly how your project, plan or service works and
- your conclusionsOnce you have the information down in point-form, sift through and remove all irrelevant details and then organize the information in each section from most to least important. Then tackle the writing.
- Grammatical Errors.
Grammar mistakes undermine clarity and make you look unprofessional. The most common mistakes I see are: improper tense usage, botched noun-verb agreement, incorrect punctuation and run on sentences.Here’s the quick fix: Well, there is no quick fix. I recommend people purchase a set of public school grammar workbooks and complete all exercises from the Grade 1 Level onward. If you’re blessed with a solid grammatical foundation and only occasionally have trouble with some of the finer points of grammar, take the three minutes necessary to get the right answer through an online resource.
- Poor word usage.
In this category I include packing a sentence with twice as many words as you need to get the job done and using complicated words – sometimes incorrectly – when simple ones will work just fine. Another no-no is jargon – none of it means anything.Here’s the quick fix: It’s almost always possible to cut at least 15% of the words out of your text without diluting your message so get tough and get at it. It’s also a good idea to ask someone else to edit the piece. And, finally, one of the secrets to writing well is to read. A lot. Exposure to other good writers teaches proper writing techniques and it’s easier to pick up on the conventions of a language by observing them.
Sad to say, these are only a few of the mistakes I see on an ongoing basis as a freelance writer and editor. We are all on our own writing continuum and we can all improve. But there are no real shortcuts: the best writing is disciplined, targeted, focused and sometimes painstakingly produced. Do it well, however, and you will be better able to build relationships, influence stakeholders, or earn greater market share – which is not only the foundation of a better business but, in my opinion, the foundation of a stronger economy.
Want to learn more about how I can help you avoid common writing mistakes? Contact me today!