Even the most seasoned writers make mistakes. Whether you’re a technical writer, working on dialogue for your YA novel, or conducting research to supplement sources for your non-fiction book about World War II, keep in mind that everyone makes errors. Below is a list of mistakes that some authors might find surprising. The examples included are real-life instances that authors have submitted for editing.
1. Lazy Words
Lazy words are words that weaken writing. They are usually generalizations inserted that can be deleted without altering the sentence’s purpose or emphasis. Do your best to avoid lazy words as there is always a better way to convey an idea. The following are considered lazy words:
Certainly, probably, basically
Use descriptive adjectives or alternate words to best provide details to readers. For instance:
Lawson outlines a very hopeful future for humanity and AI’s development.
Lawson outlines a hopeful future for humanity and the development of AI technology.
2. There Was/There Were…
Avoid using sentences that begin with “there was” or “there were” because it pins you (the author) into a corner. Once you implement that subject/verb phrase, you can’t be creative with the direction of the sentence. For example:
There was a strike of lightning and there was a tremendous thundering sound…
Instead, make the lightning and thunder the subjects. Write:
A strike of lightning flickered, and a tremendous clap of thunder ensued.
You give importance to the subjects by writing in this way!
3. The Past-Continuous Tense
Many emerging writers overutilize the past-continuous tense. That is, someone was doing something. Past-continuous is defined as [was + a verb]. He was sitting; they were dancing; I was thinking…
You can use this tense sparingly. In most cases, however, you create a more immediate sensation by using past simple.
The colorful, blue door was standing open and inviting.
The colorful, blue door stood open, inviting.
By changing the verb tense, you create more immediacy.
Another mistake writers often make has to do with misdirects. Allow me to provide an example:
As I moved closer to check it out, it appeared to be a gold-encrusted sword.
The first half of this sentence is a dependent clause. It can’t stand by itself because you’ve used the word “as.” It needs the second part of the sentence. In the dependent clause, you have established that I is the subject. Therefore, the rest of the sentence must be about I.
Instead, the second part of the sentence (the independent clause: it appeared to be a small opening or window) uses the subject it. So, you’ve led your reader to believe that the sentence is about “I” in the beginning and then changed it in the second half. Rewrite the sentence to read:
As I moved closer to check it out, I realize it was a gold-encrusted sword.
Notice that “I” is the subject in both clauses.
5. Overuse of Coordinating Conjunctions and Prepositional Phrases
Coordinating conjunctions “and” and “but” are important in the English language. However, when abused, they can become a great source of distress for readers. Often, writers write like they speak, tacking on independent clauses one after another by simply using “and.”
Be careful when doing this because it can not only frustrate readers (because they can’t perceive an end to the sentence), but it can detract from the power of the statements you are making. For example:
On the final day of our quantitative analysis class and in no less than six hours we had to prove what we had learned over the semester and do the following: review the data from a survey carried out and identify one- and two-tailed hypotheses as well as write level of measurement questions, recognize semantic differentials, and create an SPSS regression to represent the data, but no additional computer statistics needed to be completed, thank goodness.
This is hard for readers because they don’t have an expectation of when the sentence will end. Instead, let’s change it to read:
On the final day of our quantitative analysis class, we had to prove in no less than six hours what we had learned over the semester by reviewing the data from a survey, identifying one- and two-tailed hypotheses, writing level-of-measurement questions, recognizing semantic differentials, and creating an SPSS regression to represent the data. Thank goodness we weren’t asked to complete additional computer statistics!
Overuse of prepositional phrases and dependent clauses can also frustrate readers. For example:
She had an athletic build with short red hair that curled around her chin, wearing tight shorts and a tank top (red and gold decorative designs) with white and gold sneakers and no-show socks, like an Olympian, showing lean, muscular legs and a toned midriff.
Aside from the misplaced modifiers, this sentence is exhausting to read. But if we edit it to focus on single elements one at a time, this character becomes a mosaic of an athlete!
She had an athletic build with lean, muscular legs and a toned midriff. Her short, red hair curled around her chin. Her track uniform of tight-fitting shorts and a tank top was red and adorned with decorative gold designs. Her white sneakers also boasted gold.
6. Using the Same Word Twice
On your quest to become a stronger writer, practice avoiding using the same word twice within a sentence or neighboring sentences.
While she was used to the stares, she didn’t know the effect they would have on her. Using the chair to keep her balance, she gazed into the distance. She didn’t know what to do.
While she was accustomed to the stares, she didn’t realize the effect they would have on her. Using her chair to keep her balance, she gazed into the distance. What could she do?
Young or fledgling authors have a proclivity for reusing words because they just want to get the information down on the page. They are not yet aware of their surroundings (the surrounding sentences).
Many authors write like they speak and hope that punctuation will clarify everything. But you can’t do that. Writers must find a balance between how they speak and the written language. Often, this is the copyeditor’s job!
Writers can become distracted by their own inner thoughts and subsequently divert readers’ attention from the focus of a sentence. For instance:
Having a group of volunteers from different backgrounds: from teenagers, busy moms, and octogenarians to college students and retirees trying to stay active and involved leant itself to scheduling complications to say the least.
That’s a meandering sentence that will frustrate readers. Rewrite it to read:
The volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds. Some were teenagers while others were busy mothers and octogenarians. College students and retirees trying to stay active also participated. Of course, such a wide assortment of volunteers led to scheduling complications.
See? A little cleaner, a little more straightforward.
Writers are proud people who are intimately tied to their creative works. Manuscripts—no matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction—act as representations of an author’s identity and soul. They symbolize hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Aside from the day-to-day common typos and generalized writing mistakes others might tout, the above list delves into the nitty gritty of developmental editing.
Don’t be discouraged if you make the above-mentioned mistakes! Now, you know what to look out for. Make your corrections and go forth!
Owner/Editor of Emerging Ink Solutions, avid YA/NA author, adamant supporter of the Oxford Comma, anime and music enthusiast.