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It’s a common occurrence for anyone to have errors in their writing—we’re all human, right? But wouldn’t it be nice to avoid them altogether?

By being more alert to typical pitfalls, you’ll save a lot of time on revisions and write essays that are clearer and more coherent from the start. Also, readers will find your message more trustworthy; even small errors in your writing can take away from your credibility.

Format, spelling, grammar, word usage, and punctuation are the most mistake-prone areas in writing. Paying close attention to each of these can make your writing clearer, stronger, and more credible.

The most commonly made mistakes tend to fall into five categories:

  • Format and style

  • Grammar

  • Spelling

  • Word usage

  • Punctuation

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Format and Style

Essay organization and inconsistencies in overall tone and style are an important place to be on the lookout for errors. Here are a few steps to help you format your own writing correctly:

Use paragraphs

This one seems easy, right? But it might surprise you to find how often paragraphs aren’t put together correctly or are left out altogether. Always remember to layout all written work using structured paragraphs.

Include all parts of your essay

Double-check to make sure you have an introduction (with a clear thesis statement), supporting details, and a conclusion. Without all of these essential parts, your essay won’t be coherent or complete.

Keep the focus on your central purpose

Everything you write should support your main idea. Don’t wander. Always refer back to your thesis statement or essay’s purpose to make sure you are staying on point.

Avoid fragments and run-on sentences

Incomplete thoughts or thoughts that go on and on are poor writing tactics. Be sure you are writing in complete sentences; at a minimum, each sentence should include a noun and a verb.

Don’t be repetitive or lengthy

State what needs to be stated and then move on. Repetitive and lengthy essays are boring for your reader and ineffective in getting your message across on paper.

Keep your tone and point of view consistent

Decide what your tone is and stick with it throughout your essay. If you are serious in your introduction, stay serious throughout. If you are trying to be humorous, keep up the humor throughout.

Also, keep your point of view consistent. Choose to tell your story in the first, second, or third person and avoid switching in between!

Grammar

When you are writing anything, regardless of what it is for, make sure the grammar is accurate. In writing (as opposed to speaking), there is a permanent record of your words. Improve your grammar usage with these helpful hints:

Make sure subjects and verbs agree

This means that the subject has the correct verb form next to it.

For example, look at “was” vs “were”:

I was at the party. We were at the party.

I was and we were are both in agreement. However, if you flip them, I were and we was, you are using the wrong verb form for each subject.

Take a look at this example:

I seen this girl at the party. She was hot!

The correct verb tense is I saw this girl. Verbs need to agree in the present and past tenses as well.

Identify pronouns

If you are using she, he, it, they, or any other pronoun, make sure these pronouns are identified clearly.

For example:

I saw the dog, the mouse, and the cat. He was the funniest one.

This leaves the reader asking, “Who was the funniest one?”

To clarify, you need to give the reader more information:

I saw the dog, the mouse, and the cat. The cat was making me laugh so hard. He was the funniest one.

In this case, he is obviously referring to the cat.

All pronouns need to be clear so your reader isn’t left guessing who you are talking about.

Understand “good” and “well”

Good is an adjective that describes a person, place, or thing. Well is an adverb that describes a verb—how someone does something.

For example, we often hear people (incorrectly) state, “I did so good on my English test today!” Actually, it should be “I did well.”

Keep in mind that you can be a good writer when you learn to write well.

Spelling

While spell check is very helpful, it doesn’t catch everything. Start by being aware of words that are often misspelled and keep track of your own words that seem to stump you.

Learn to spell the most commonly misspelled words

Here are a few words to learn and file away for future use. Write this list on a big piece of paper and keep it nearby when you start an essay:

  • which

  • definitely

  • separate

  • receive

  • government

  • restaurant

  • awkward

  • toward

Make your own list of words you can never remember how to spell

Always wondering if each other is one word or two? Eachother or each other? (Hint: It’s two words.)

There are many words in the English language that can be confused with one another. Learning to choose the correct form is essential to making your intended meaning clear.

Are you questioning your spelling of whether again? Whether, wether, or weather?

Add these words to your list of commonly misspelled words and refer to it frequently.

Word Usage

Choosing the correct word to use can sometimes be tricky. Here are a few of the most common words people confuse when writing:

Onto vs. On To

Use onto when you mean on top of:

He lifted the book onto the shelf.

Use on to when the verb needs on in order to function:

He logged on to his computer.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun.

Take a look:

Your grades will affect your chances of getting accepted to the college of your choice.

Poor grades can have a negative effect on your college search.

Former vs. Latter

Former and latter are used to distinguish between two things. Former refers to the first of these two things, and latter refers to the second item.

For example:

Milk and cookies are a great snack. The former provides healthy calcium for your bones. The latter is just a yummy, delicious treat.

There vs. Their vs. They’re

There is a pronoun that indicates a location. Their shows possession. They’re is a contracted form of they are.

San Francisco? They have been living there for three years now.

Their tiny apartment in Atlanta was very expensive.

They’re happy they decided to move.

Your vs. You’re

Your shows possession. You’re is the contracted form of you are.

Your children are lovely!

You’re so lucky to have such a beautiful family.

Its vs. It’s

Its shows possession. It’s is the contracted form of it is.

The hamster loves its wheel.

It’s a great form of exercise.

Punctuation

Punctuation mistakes can be the hardest to detect since they are minor details. But keep in mind even the smallest details can have an enormous impact on your writing.

Commas

There are way too many comma rules to mention all of them here. However, one of the most basic is to use a comma to address someone or separate a thought.

Check out this common example:

Let’s eat, Grandma.

Let’s eat Grandma.

In the first sentence, you’re suggesting to grandma that it is time to eat. In the second, you’re suggesting that you eat Grandma. That’s a BIG difference made by one little comma.

Possessives

To make a singular noun possessive, you usually add an apostrophe then an s.

This is the little girl’s room.

To make a plural possessive, simply add an apostrophe to the word.

All of the girls’ rooms need to be cleaned.

Capitalization

Wondering what to capitalize? Do you capitalize seasons? Do you capitalize holidays?

Here are a few reminders:

Capitalize: holidays, days, months, planets, religions

DO NOT capitalize: seasons, elements, sun, moon

By avoiding some common writing errors, your writing will be more clear, coherent, and intelligent. If you pay attention to these details, you can write a college essay that stands out for all of the right reasons. Being precise in your word usage, punctuation, and grammar will create an essay that looks polished and is ready to be taken seriously.