Starting a career as a freelance writer is relatively straightforward. Unlike some careers that require countless years of experience to get your foot in the door, working as a writer online requires nothing more than tenacity, dependability, and a bit of hard work. Oh, and writing chops don’t hurt.
Few clients will expect you to produce breathtaking prose at the drop of a hat, but your work does need to stand on its own. I can’t tell you how disheartening I find it to read copy peppered with misspellings and grammatical mistakes. I’ll be the first to tell you that every writer makes mistakes, myself included. Look closely and you’ll probably find errors in this very blog post.
While casual errors do crop up from time to time, it’s your responsibility as a professional writer to understand the ins and outs of the English language. If you’re still struggling to understand the difference between your and you’re, or you simply can’t wrap your head around to, two, and too, writing may not be the career for you.
Take a look at my list of common writing mistakes and make sure you’re not creating error-filled content.
Everyday & Every Day
It’s pretty easy to confuse “everyday” and “every day,” but the two are not interchangeable. Commonplace activities or things that take place daily are “everyday occurrences.” On the other hand, you wake up “every day.” Not too tricky, right?
Inconsistent Comma Usage
Various style guides dictate certain rules of the written language. AP, Chicago, and MLA Styles are among the most popular guidelines for journalists and writers. Regardless of your personal stylistic preferences, it’s incredibly important to maintain consistency in your copy.
Nowhere is this more evident than in comma usage. Serial commas (or Oxford commas) are placed after every item in a list, as well as the coordinating conjunction. The AP Stylebook is notable for eschewing this pattern. See the examples below:
Serial Comma: Red, blue, and green
No Comma: Red, blue and green
I personally use the serial comma, but it drives me bonkers when writers use serial commas in some sentences and skip them in others. EEK! Pick a style and stick with it!
Should you write numbers out or use the symbol?
The rule is pretty straightforward: write out numbers zero to nine and use symbols for 10 and above. As Writer’s Digest explains, “there are other instances where the under-10/over-10 rule doesn’t apply. Always use figures for ages of people (“He’s 9 years old”), dates (February 14), monetary amounts ($8), percentages (14 percent) and ratios (2-to-1).”
Less vs. Fewer
This might be the most frustrating of my grammar pet peeves.
“There are less people here today!” Noooooooooooooooooo.
Can you count the object in question? If so, use fewer. For example, “There are fewer apples in this box.” On the other hand, you’ll want to use less for immeasurable items. “This drink is too sweet; please use less sugar next time.”
As Quick and Dirty Tips points out, things get a bit trickier when you’re dealing with time, money, weight, and distance. In most cases, you’ll count these things as a singular item. Have a read of the aforementioned blog post for a more in-depth look at the subject.
Lose vs. Loose
“I can’t wait to loose weight on my new diet!”No, no, no.
You can’t wait to lose weight on your new diet. Lose means to let go of or no longer have something, while loose is the opposite of tight. If you struggle with this rule, read your sentence out loud.
I know, it seems like spring and summer need to be capitalized, but in most cases, they don’t. Use capitalization when seasons form part of a proper noun: Fall Semester 2016, for example.
This is just painful. Alot is NOT a word. And yet, I see this mistake a lot!
Alright receives an honorable mention in my book. While it may not be technically incorrect, it makes my stomach flip to read it. Because many people see alright in a negative light, I’d advise instead using all right whenever possible.
Aisle vs. Isle
You can file this one under, “you’ve gotta be kidding me,” because that’s how I feel every time I see these two words misused.
Both aisle and isle are English words, but they refer to totally different things. Aisles are found in churches and supermarkets, whereas isle is a synonym for island.
Then and Than
Uh-oh, this is another devastating mistake that pops up way too often.
Than is a conjunction generally used for comparisons between two objects. For example, “My writing is better than yours.” We use then when describing a series of events: first add the water to the bowl, then mix in an egg.
Listen, we all make mistakes, as I mentioned above. There is no shame in making a grammatical error, receiving correction, and changing your ways. Things get tricky, however, when you insist on sticking to your bad habits.
I worked with one freelancer in the past who would habitually misspell calender, for example. I tried to gently correct her by subtly mentioning my calendar in messages to her, but she never got the hint. Finally, I simply told her, “Hey, I noticed you misspell calendar pretty frequently. Just thought I’d point it out so you can correct that.”
Her response? “Oh. That doesn’t really bother me.” -_-
Um, perhaps it bothers the people paying you good money to write for them?
Don’t be that person. If somebody corrects your mistake, pick your pride up off the floor and thank them for caring enough to help you become a better writer.
Pro Tip: I rely on Grammarly to police my grammar when I write online. It’s a FREE Chrome extension that not only checks your spelling as you write, but it also lets you know when your grammar has gone all wonky. A client actually recommended the service to me in passing, and I love it. Plus, it’s hard to beat free!
I know I can’t be the only one out there with a long list of grammar pet peeves. What writing mistakes drive you crazy?