Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make

No. 1 Fragments, comma splices, and run-ons

Fragments

  • incomplete sentences
  • missing either a subject or verb
  • often connected to sentence before or after them
  • For example: I need to find a new friend.  Because the one I have now is mean.

On the other hand...

Complete sentences

  • have both a subject and a verb (an actor and an action)
  • express a complete thought

Fixing fragments

  • Combine the fragment with the sentence before or after it:
    • I need to find a new friend.  Because the one I have now is mean.
    • Revision: I need to find a new friend because the one I have now is mean.
  • Add  or delete words to make the fragment its own complete sentence:
    • I need to find a new friend.  Because the one I have now is mean.
    • Revision: I need to find a new friend.  The one I have now is mean.

Run-Ons

  • Not necessarily a long sentence
  • A sentence with more than one subject-verb set with no words or punctuation between them
  • For example: I'm not sure how he will manage though it's not an easy life out in the colonies.

Fixing run-ons, options 1 & 2

I'm not sure how he will manage though it's not an easy life out in the colonies.
  • separate the sentences using periods
    • I'm not sure how he will manage though. It's not an easy life out in the colonies.
  • add a comma and a conjunction such as and, but, or, so, yet
    • I'm not sure how he will manage, and it's not an easy life out in the colonies.

Fixing run-on's, options 3 & 4

I'm not sure how he will manage though it's not an easy life out in the colonies.

  • place a semicolon between the sentences
    • I'm not sure how he will manage though; it's not an easy life out in the colonies.
  • change one of the sentences into a clause beginning with because
    • I'm not sure how he will manage though because it's not an easy life out in the colonies.

Comma splices

A run-on that joins two or more complete sentences with a comma

Fixing comma splices, option 1

I didn’t know what job I wanted, I was too confused to decide.

  • Spilt the halves of the sentences into two separate sentences:
    • I didn’t know what job I wanted.  I was too confused to decide.

Fixing comma splices, 2 & 3

I didn’t know what job I wanted, I was too confused to decide.

  • Add in a coordinating conjunction, or a connecting word:
    • I didn’t know what job I wanted and I was too confused to decide.
  • Join the two phrases with a semicolon:
    • I didn’t know what job I wanted; I was too confused to decide.

No. 2 Easily Confused Words

  • they’re vs. there vs. their
  • your vs. you’re
  • it’s vs. its

There vs. they're vs. their

  • There is an adverb specifying place or location.
    • Example: The books are over there on the table.
  • Their is a possessive pronoun signifying something belongs to more than one person.
    • Example: Mark and Eric washed their cars in the driveway.
  • They’re is a contraction of they are.
    • Example: They’re going swimming today.
  • Talking about a location?  Use there.
  • Talking about something that belongs to someone?  Use their.
  • Will the sentence make sense if you use “they are”? 
  • Use they’re.

“Despite not having there own official town soccer program in years, many of Union City's kids have played in teams of surrounding municipalities.” – The Union City Reporter

“ ‘Aaron Gray is as good of a big man passer as their is,’ Crean said.” – Marquette Univ. Golden Eagles press release

“Officials say they're are no crossing guards at the tracks.” KTEN.com (NBC affiliate in OK)

Your vs. you're

  • Your is a possessive pronoun signifying something belongs to “you.”
    • Example: That’s your cat
  • You’re is a contraction of you are.
    • Example: You’re going straight to school today!

Talking about something that belongs to someone?  Use your.
Will the sentence make sense if you use “you are”?  Use you’re.

Its vs. it's

  • Its is a possessive pronoun showing something belongs to “it.”
    • Example: The book has a tiger on its cover.
  • It’s is a contraction of “it is.”
    • Example: It’s sunny out today.

Talking about something that belongs to someone?  Use its.
Will the sentence make sense if you use “it is”?  Use it’s.

No. 3 Use the same tense

  • Make sure that your paper is in the same tense all the way through. 
  • Some hints:
    • Most research papers and narratives should be in the past tense,
    • When you discuss a story, movie, or book, the plot is always discussed in the present tense.
  • Remember, though, the key is consistency!
  • While Barbara puts in her contact lenses, the telephone rang.
  • Thousands of people would see the art exhibit by the time it closes.
  • By the time negotiations began, many pessimists have expressed doubt about them.
  • After her father visited Alaska on his third voyage, he is killed by a polar bear before he could escape.

No. 4 Commas

Rule 1

  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction like “and,” “but,” or “or” that joins independent clauses.
    • Nearly everyone had arrived, but the guest of honor was late.

Rule 2

  • Use a comma after an introductory phrase or clause.  These introductory phrases often establish setting, either time or location.
    • Near a small stream, the park rangers discovered the abandoned shack.  In 1988, the shack had been abandoned.

Rule 3

  • Use a comma between two or more adjectives that each modify a noun separately, called coordinate adjectives:
    • Robert is a handsome, brave, and generous man.
  • Do not use commas between adjectives that modify a noun when placed together, called cumulative adjectives:
    • Three large grey shapes moved towards us. 
    • NOT Three, large, grey shapes moved towards us.

Rule 4

  • Use commas to set off phrases if they could be eliminated from the sentence without changing its meaning.
    • The helicopter, with its spotlight, circled above.

Rule 5

  • Use commas to set off transitional phrases:
    • As a matter of fact, American football dates back to the Middle Ages.

Or..

Check for missing or unnecessary commas by reading your paper out loud and noting where you naturally pause – chances are a comma belongs there.

Comma example

"Strong talented and natural writers have always been first of all readers yet we often ignore the relationship” she says going on to comment on the connection between reading and writing termed simply if rather uncreatively “the reading/writing connection” by the education community has been investigated and examined only since the early 1980s.

Comma example answer

“Strong, talented, and natural writers have always been, first of all, readers, yet we often ignore the relationship,” she says, going on to comment on the connection between reading and writing, termed simply if rather uncreatively “the reading/writing connection” by the education community, has been investigated and examined only since the early 1980s.

Commas change meaning...

Compare the title of this book when written with and without commas. Does this meaning change?

  • Eats, shoots, and leaves
  • Eats shoots and leaves

No. 5 Organization

  • Papers with poor organization become confusing or repetitive. 
    • Outline before you begin writing. 
    • Gloss (write the topic of a paragraph in the margins). 
    • Check for transitions, topic sentences, a firm and clear thesis, and a strong introduction and conclusion. 
    • Remember that every paragraph should support your thesis!

Ways to keep your work organized

  • Listing
  • Clustering
  • Mapping
  • Webbing
  • Flowcharting
  • Outlining
  • Glossing
  • Notecards

No. 6 Nouns and pronouns

  • We often use singular nouns with plural pronouns when we speak to avoid having to use a gendered pronoun. 
    • For example, in “Each student has their own opinion,”  “student” is a singular noun, but “their” is a plural pronoun.
  • Avoid this by making the noun plural so it agrees with the plural pronoun.
    • “The students each have their own opinions.”
  • Or use “his or her” instead of “their.”
    • “Each student has his or her own opinion.”

No. 7 Inflated sentences

  • It’s important for your written work to sound like you. 
  • Inflating sentences by adding many prepositional phrases or passive voice makes your work sound pretentious, and could also make it difficult to read. 
  • For example:
    • Don’t say “in the event of” – say “if.” 
    • Don’t say “In regards to” – say “about.” 
    • Don’t say “I am of the opinion that” – say “I think.” 
    • Also avoid passive voice.
    • Try to eliminate as many forms of the verb “to be” as possible.

A dual-member team proceeded toward the apex of a natural geological protuberance, the purpose of their expedition being the procurement of a sample of fluid hydride of oxygen in a large vessel, the exact size of which was unspecified. One member of the team precipitately descended, sustaining severe fractional damage to the upper cranial portion of the anatomical structure. Subsequently the second member of the team performed a self-rotation translation oriented in the direction taken by the first team member.

Translation...

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.  Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.

To avoid sentence inflation:

  • Use the active voice  
  • Use active verbs
  • Scale down wordy phrases
  • Reduce prepositional phrases
  • Reduce use of “there are/is”
  • Avoid unnecessarily inflated words

No. 8 Apostrophes

  • Replace deleted numbers or letters
    • Ex. “the ’60s”
    • Ex. “can’t” or “you’re”
  • Make nouns possessive
    • Ex. “the dog’s collar” (singular)
    • Ex. “the five cats’ home” (plural)

Apostrophes never, never, never make words – even numbers or abbreviations – plural!

No. 9 The difference between speech and writing

  • Keep in mind the difference between speech and writing:
    • Many things we say when we speak are not acceptable in written work. 
    • For example, I might say, “I gotta work ’til eight,” but when I write, I should say, “I have to work until eight.”
    • Other colloquialisms like “something like that” or “like” should be avoided.
    • Remember that even the most informal paper is slightly more formal than speech.

How would you say it to your boss?

  • I’m suppose to (“supposeta”) go home.
    • I’m supposed to go home.
  • Each person went to their homes.
    • Each person went to his or her home.
  • I gotta go home.
    • I’ve got (OR I need) to go home.
  • I use to go (“useta”) go home.
    • I used to go home.
  • I’m gonna go home.
    • I’m going to go home.
  • I hafta go home.
    • I have to go home.
  • She was like, “Go home!”  OR  She goes, “Go home!”
    • She said, “Go home!”

No. 10 Spelling and Grammar Check

  • Spelling and/or Grammar Check may:
    • automatically change a word’s spelling when your spelling was right
    • offer you several words that are spelled similarly but mean radically different things
    • mark sentences wrong that may be correct
    • give “correct” options that are illogical or just plain wrong
  • Remember, you know your work better than any machine – neither grammar nor spell check is a replacement for proofreading your own work. 

Examples from: