Beyond hooking your audience with a strong, captivating introduction, it’s essential for great writing to be error-free. Any type of writing, whether it is standard email correspondence or news writing, should contain excellent spelling, grammar and punctuation.
When grammar mistakes appear in writing, your readers quickly lose trust and all credibility goes out the window. Think about the last time you read an awful headline, “Las Vegas Chefs Open They’re Kitchen to Feed Homeless.” Whether it is a simple mistake or sloppy copy editing, readers won’t trust what you have to say if you can’t correctly write. Some grammar mistakes are common and easily recognizable. Yet other hidden mistakes could be negatively affecting your writing credibility without you even knowing it.
Unfortunately, spellchecking technology can only recognize certain grammatical mistakes, leaving you, the writer, responsible for constructing beautifully written sentences without error. Below we’ve compiled a list of seven grammar mistakes potentially hurting your writing credibility.
Hubspot explains the importance of avoiding dangling modifiers. This mistake happens when a descriptive phrase doesn’t apply to the noun immediately following it. Here’s an example of a dangling modifier, “Having read the book, the film will be a hit.” Here, “Having read the book,” has nothing to modify. In a correct sentence such as, “Having read the book, I think the film will be a hit,” the first part of the sentence modifies “I.”
Another example explained by Hubspot is, “After declining for months, Jean tried a new tactic to increase ROI.” What exactly is declining for months? Jean? In reality, the sentence was trying to say the ROI was declining — not Jean. To fix this problem, try flipping around the sentence structure. When dangling modifiers appear in writing, they add confusion to the sentence, making your point unclear.
PEOPLE VERSUS ENTITIES
According to Grammar Girl, companies are entities yet they are comprised of people. Observing when a sentence is referring to a company as a legal entity or a group of people, say a board of directors, is key to determining which pronoun to use.
In this example, MegaCo directors are referred to as a group of people, “Today, the MegaCo directors, who just laid off 1,000 factory workers, gave themselves a raise. They should be ashamed of themselves.” This makes the correct pronoun “they” instead of “it.”
In a case where you’re referring to the company or corporation as an entity, you might write, “The CEO of MegaCo said the company is expected to sell for one billion dollars despite the fact that it was recently valued at 500 million dollars.” The pronoun “it” is used in this example because there is no indication the sentence is referring to a specific group of people within the company, just the corporation itself. For more information on people versus entities, click here.
As simple as using an apostrophe to show possession may seem, it is one of the most common writing mistakes. To create a possessive form of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and “s” to the end of the word. An example of this would be, “The dog’s ball.” Pretty straightforward, right?
If the noun is plural, add the apostrophe after the “s.” For example, “The dogs’ bones.” This sentence refers to bones belonging to multiple dogs. If the noun is singular and ends in “s,” you should also put the apostrophe after the “s.” For example. “The dress’ blue color.” Here, the sentence is describing the color of the one dress, not multiple. For even more clarity, The Punctuation Guide shares additional examples.
Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. In contrast, active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. Passive voice often creates unclear, less direct and wordy sentences, whereas active voice creates clear, concise sentences. Grammarly explains how to use active voice with a simple formula: [subject] + [verb (performed by the subject)] + [optional object].
An example of passive voice is, “On April 19, 1775, arms were seized by British soldiers at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.” To use active voice you would write, “On April 19, 1775, British soldiers seized arms at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.” Notice how much more lively the second sentence is.
Active voice not only makes your writing stronger and more captivating; it eliminates unnecessary words and confusion.
WHO VERSUS THAT
When describing someone or something, it can be tempting to use “that” in every sentence. An example of improperly using “that” to describe a person would be, “Stephanie is a photographer that likes to take pictures of sunsets.” Stephanie is not an object, therefore “who” would be the proper word to describe her. For example, “Stephanie is a photographer who likes to take pictures of sunsets.”
With objects, “that” is perfectly acceptable. Example, “His water bottle is the one that always leaks.” For groups of people, “that” is also proper. “She belongs to an organization that helps endangered animals.” Additional who versus that tips can be found on grammarbook.com.
MISUSE OF SEMICOLONS
A semicolon is a wonderful tool to diversify the punctuation in your writing. No, semicolons are not the same as regular colons. They do not serve the same purpose as commas, either.
The Write Life explains the four proper uses for semicolons. The first case links closely related independent clauses. An example of this use is, “Jamie really likes cheese; it may be her favorite food on Earth.” Here, the two statements could stand on their own, but the semicolon reinforces the closeness of the two ideas. The second case is quite similar to the first in that it connects two closely related independent clauses. The difference here is there is a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb after the semicolon. “Jamie really likes cheese; in fact, it may be her favorite food on Earth.”
In the third case, a semicolon connects independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction for clarity or brevity. In the following example, the first independent clause already has a comma, which would make using a second comma to separate the clauses a bit unclear. “Jamie really likes cheeses of all sorts, including both soft-ripened Bries and firm cheddars; but other cheese lovers sometimes stick to a single variety.” A semicolon creates clarity and offers the reader’s brain a break.
Lastly, a semicolon can be used to separate items in a serial list such as, “Jamie’s list of favorite cheeses spans a wide variety: soft, gooey Bries; firm, sharp cheddars; and all sorts of intermediary options like goat’s milk Gouda.” Here, the serial list already includes items that have commas. A semicolon is used to separate list items and make them more distinct.
CONFUSION BETWEEN EN AND EM DASHES
According to Grammarly, a dash is longer than a hyphen and is commonly used to indicate a range or a pause. The most common types of dashes are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—).
An en dash acts as glue when you have a compound modifier that includes a multi-word element that can’t easily be hyphenated. For example, the phrase, “Elvis Presley–style dance moves,” uses an en dash because “Elvis-Presley-style dance moves,” is awkward; “Elvis Presley” isn’t a compound modifier so hyphenating it looks odd. En dashes are also used to show ranges of numbers, such as times, page numbers or scores e.g.: 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Em dashes are most often used to indicate pauses in sentences as they are stronger than commas but weaker than periods and semicolons. You can also use a pair of em dashes to draw special attention to parenthetical information. Here’s an example, “The new nurse—who was wearing the same purple scrubs as the old nurse—entered the room with a tray of Jell-O.” A single em dash also functions as a colon to add explanatory or amplifying information, “I opened the door and there she stood—my long-lost sister.”
Implementing the above grammar and punctuation rules will make your writing clear, powerful and concise. Although each one of these rules is important to incorporate into sentence structure to maintain trust and credibility, there are dozens of other spelling, grammar and punctuation rules to abide by. Often, it can be overwhelming to even know where to begin when it comes to starting a large-scale writing project. Besides proper grammar, there’s tone, voice and style to think about when writing.
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