Barbara Brabec’s Editing Checklist of Common Writing Errors

photo featuring two quotes; Write Without Fear. Edit Without Mercy.

Photo by Hannah Grace on Unsplash.


Barbara Brabec’s

Editing Checklist of Common Writing Errors
(or Why You Need an Editor)

There are many things you can do to “clean up” your book manuscript prior to hiring someone to edit it for self-publication. To save money on your professional copy editing costs, use this helpful checklist to find errors you may have missed. .

The Trouble with Spell-Check and Grammar Checkers
Humorous Rules for Writing Good
Actual Headlines from Publications around the World
Fun to Know

Even the most careful writer is likely to make some of the following common writing errors:

Are you sure about your punctuation? Every little mark has a meaning of its own, and where you place (or forget to place) each mark can make a BIG difference in how readers will judge the quality of your writing.

Many writers struggle with commas (too many, not enough, or used in the wrong place); and they also hyphenate two words that are now commonly written as one; use quotation marks incorrectly; mix up colons and semicolons; overuse exclamation points (which should be used rarely, if ever); and murder apostrophes.

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession (Sam’s book or the peoples’ voice), or to form contractions (can’t, shouldn’t), but NEVER to indicate plural. (It’s not the 1970’s but the 1970s; not DVD’s but DVDs.)

Are all words properly capitalized or italicized? There are more than a dozen capitalization rules, so when in doubt, check a grammar book for guidance. Italics are used to distinguish certain words or phrases from others in the text; also for titles of things that can stand by themselves, such as a book or movie. Articles, poems, and TV shows, on the other hand, should be placed between quotation marks. In a book manuscript, don’t use underlining when you mean italics. This is an outdated typing rule.

Are you using the right words? As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” While the right words in a brochure, advertisement, or news release can motivate someone to buy your product or service, the wrong words can just as easily turn them off. (As any copywriter will tell you, some words have more sales power than others.)

Then there is the matter of choosing words that are grammatically correct, such as that/which; who/whom; their/there/they’re; to/too; further/farther; affect/effect; fewer/less; your/you’re, and its/it’s. Using the wrong word will make educated readers wonder about your professionalism.

Note: When English is not your first language, it’s very easy to use the wrong words here and there, and all the more important to have an experienced editor check your writing for errors.

“Some slips of the pen are plainly typographical errors. Proofreading, alas, is a losing, if not a lost art. Other embarrassments stem from ignorance or overconfidence. But the vast majority of our hoo-haws result from sheer carelessness. We take our eye off the page, and behold: A Methodist church in South Carolina is a non-prophet organization, and John Wilkes Booth was responsible for the assignation of Abraham Lincoln.” – © James J. Kilpatrick, “The Writer’s Art” (syndicated newspaper column). Used by permission.

Do you sometimes transpose words? Now that so many writers are relying on a spell-checker, it’s very easy to miss words that have been transposed. They are still correctly spelled, but they’re the wrong words (e.g., form/from, for/fro).

Note: There are many free spell-checkers and proofreading tools on the web, but read the agreement to use. Many will want you to add the “tool” to your browser (especially Chrome), which means you’ll be tracked on the web even more than you are now.

Are your subjects and verbs in agreement? Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs. Always focus on the subject. It’s not “One of the boxes ARE missing,” but “One of the boxes IS missing.”

Are your pronouns and antecedents in agreement? The most common error is using “they” or “their” instead of the necessary gender-specific word. Example: “If a business owner goes broke today, it may not be their fault.” The easiest way to fix this is to take the plural route; i.e., “If business owners go broke today, it may not be their fault.” (See my thoughts on using gender-specific words in one of the related articles below.)

Are all the words and letters you meant to include actually there? Our brains often move faster than our fingers can type the words, so it’s very easy to drop a word from a sentence, or a letter at the end of a word. (A missing “s” or “d,” for example, will affect present/past tense or cause singular/plural errors.)

Are all your sentences complete and properly ordered in paragraphs? Avoid run-on sentences—two independent clauses that can stand alone but are run together without a proper connector (a punctuation mark or a connecting word such as and, or, but, so, etc.).

Long paragraphs should be broken up to make the reading easier. In nonfiction, make a new paragraph when you shift your focus or change topics; in fiction, also make a new paragraph when the scene changes and when a different person is speaking.

The Trouble with Spell-Check and Grammar Checkers

While grammar checkers are sometimes better than nothing, you need a good understanding of grammar to use them because some of the suggestions they make are simply ridiculous.

Remember that spell-check finds only misspelled words according to its idea of what’s correct. First, your spell-check dictionary probably doesn’t include terms common to your particular industry or even your country. (For example, both Word and WordPerfect spell-checkers often suggest using British spelling instead of American.) More important, spell-check isn’t going to point out when you’ve used the wrong word (incorrect meaning), or made a typo (an/and, not/now, to/too, if/of, etc.).

Humorous Rules for Writing Good

Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
Don’t use no double negatives.
A writer mustn’t shift your point of view.
Don’t use a run-on sentence you got to punctuate it.
About sentence fragments.
Don’t use commas, which aren’t necessary.
Don’t abbrev.
Check to see if you any words out.
Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.
Use apostrophe’s right.
Last but not least, lay off clichés.

Actual Headlines from Publications around the World

Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Clinton Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Ax

Fun to Know

Did you know that no word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple?

“Typewriter” is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.

“Stewardesses” is the longest word typed with only the left hand, but let me point out that my name, BARBARA BRABEC, could be one of the longest personal names that can be typed with only the left hand. (I was Mrs. Brabec for 15 years before I realized this!)

Copyright © 2006, 2016, 2021

Related Articles:

The Fine Art of Being Your Own Editor and Proofreader.  “If you plan to self-publish your book, you should budget for a good copy editor. If you’re a beginning writer, you may need some content editing too. Any errors you can find by using my tips will save you money when you hire a professional to copy-edit your manuscript.” – Barbara Brabec

The Move to Change the English Language and How We Write and Speak. Barbara’s rebellious thoughts in protest to this movement, adapted from a 2021 Brabec Bulletin.

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