Avoiding These Common Writing Mistakes
Just because certain words and phrases are commonly misused doesn’t mean you should use them in content writing. Professional writers can and should adjust their tone to their projects, but you can do that without sacrificing accuracy and good writing.
A business, organization or other entity is a singular, no matter how many people are involved. Use “it” and “its,” not “they” and “their,” unless you have specifically mentioned people within the company. For example, “The award-winning staff members at Bob’s Bait aim to please,” but not “Bob’s Bait is an award-winning company. They aim to please.” The first phrase correctly refers to the people within the company as plural; the second incorrectly refers to the company itself as plural.
But don’t refer to the company as “it” all the time. If you make multiple references to the people behind the company, you can correctly use plural pronouns while also illustrating how the company hierarchy is composed of people.
Speaking of “composed,” that’s the word people — including many professional writers — should be looking for instead of “comprised.”
“Composed of” means “made up of.” Never write “comprised of.” The word “comprises” means “consists of.” The United States is composed of 50 states. The United States comprises 50 states.
10 Items or … Fewer
Use “fewer,” not “less,” when talking about numbers. “Less” refers to volume; you have less applesauce, patience and love, but fewer apples, patients and lovers. (For those for whom this is a pet peeve, going to the “10 Items or Less” aisle at the grocery store can be an issue.)
Is it e.g. or i.e.?
Get your Latin right with these two often-abused abbreviations. The abbreviation “e.g.” is short for “exempli gratia,” or “for example.” Conversely, “i.e.” is short for “id est,” or “that is,” used to explain what something is. If Latin is not your forte, just think “e is for example.”
Be an Apostrophe Cop
Watch out for oddly placed apostrophes, particularly those that turn a plural into a possessive. A plural name takes an “s” (“the Jensons”) or an “es” (“the Joneses”).
Use “literally” only for things that are true as stated. If she “literally blew up at him,” we’re sad for both.
If you’re writing a press release, you may wish to consult an Associated Press Stylebook (a great help if you write a lot of news items) or “cheat sheets” that hit many basics. A journalists who edits your copy will notice and appreciate this.
Here are just a few tips:
- Use AP style for states that follow cities (“Lansing, Mich.,” “Buffalo, N.Y.,” “St. Cloud, Minn.”).
- Don’t capitalize titles that follow someone’s name (“President Barack Obama” is correct; “Barack Obama, President of the United States,” is not”).
- Don’t capitalize words and phrases that are not proper nouns.
- Use “more than,” not “over,” when referring to numbers.
- Don’t use an apostrophe before “s” when referring to a decade (the 1970s).
If your article is meant to be placed on a company website, consult the company guidelines, view previous articles or ask questions when you’re not sure what approach to use.
Laurie S is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.