Common Writing and Editing Mistakes to Avoid in the Digital Age

by Emily E. Steck

Common Writing and Editing Mistakes to Avoid in the Digital Age

How To Be A Writer is a series that is titled exactly as it sounds. In the digital age, writers are facing new issues on top of the old. As publishing continues to shift and change, not only are writers forced to change as well, they’re establishing themselves entirely differently, making breaking into the scene even more challenging. In this series, we offer up tips, tricks and general commentary on the journey (or slog) that is being a writer.

I am a firm believer that technology makes our lives better. I’d like to publicly thank libraries, engineers, self-checkout machines and banking apps that let me deposit my checks from home for making my life easier and, arguably, better. That’s what technology aspires to do, even with some rough trade-offs.

As much as I know technology has in many ways, made life better, it’s also made us a little dumber, nay, lazy (and entitled, but that’s another story). Who needs to remember your friend’s birthday if Facebook will do it for you? Who needs a thesaurus nearby when writing if you can just right click for synonyms? We’re not the humans in WALL-E just yet—and the world is far from a perfect place—but technology makes it better.

Without it, we’d all be afraid of our microwaves and dreaming about space instead of having already gone up there. We wouldn’t be enjoying the instant access to infinite amounts of knowledge on the internet. Though, it would be nice if people paid for all of that good content more often.

Speaking of, let’s talk about what this series is about: writers (and editors). Thanks to the internet and the crazy digital landscape, writers and editors have made trades about what makes their lives better or worse professionally. Better: spell check. Worse: over-reliance on spell check. Better: infinite amount of content and a plethora of good content. Worse: not being (adequately) paid for it.

Fear not fellow writers because technology, as of yet, has not been able to replace us. Instead, they’ve offered tools. Can a computer check if you spelled a word incorrectly or if a sentence is oddly phrased? Yes. But they aren’t too good with homophones or identifying if an argument is well structured or if an author is trying to be funny or not. They too make mistakes (look at any sci-fi movie where the computer tries to take over the world and fails). How else would you explain the abundance of mistakes riddled throughout the internet?

We as writers cannot make these mistakes due to the pressures of the current competitive industry. Don’t be that writer who is too lazy to learn her craft. Don’t rely on technology to make your writing perfect. Here’s a list of common writing and editing mistakes to avoid to make your craft even better.


Common Writing & Editing Mistakes to Avoid

By Emily E. Steck

Writers and editors: beware.

  • Phrases vs. Sentences

    By Emily E. Steck

    A sentence has a subject and a verb; if it does not, it is a phrase. Writing my list is a phrase. "I am writing my list" is a sentence. Phrases can be used in writing, but they should be used sparingly.

  • Making Family Names Plural

    By Emily E. Steck

    Never use an apostrophe to make a name plural. When referring to a group of people in the Steck family, refer to them as the _Stecks_. If referring to what they own, then use _Stecks'_ instead. Some names need an "es" to become plural, like names that end in "s," “x,” "z," “ch,” and “sh.” For example, the _Joneses_, the _Foxes_, the_ Alvarezes_, the _Churches_ and the _Ashes_. For these last names that require an "es" use an apostrophe for possessives. "That is the _Joneses_' car."

  • Its vs. It's

    By Emily E. Steck

    For the love of all that is mighty, _it's_ is a contraction of "it is." For example, "_it's_ cold outside." Whereas _its_ is possessive. "The book has lost _its_ jacket."

  • "i before e except after c" Exceptions

    By Emily E. Steck

    This handy rhyme is often very wrong. For example, the word _ceiling_ breaks this rule, as does any word with an 'e' sound. With a different sound, the 'i' goes first like the word _science._ Know that the rhyme may help you with words like _receipt_ but the rule is flexible.

  • Emigrates vs. Immigrates

    By Emily E. Steck

    One _emigrates from_ a place while one _immigrates to_ a place. Also, note that emigrates has one 'm'.

  • X Ray vs. X-Ray

    By Emily E. Steck

    _X ray_ is a noun. "He broke his arm so he needed to get an_ X ray_." Whereas an _X-ray_ is a verb or adjective. "My ankle was _X-rayed_." There are variations on when to capitalize the X; consult a style guide.

  • Wise Guy vs. Wiseguy

    By Emily E. Steck

    A smart aleck is a _wise guy_. A mobster is a _wiseguy._

  • Somewhat vs. Something

    By Emily E. Steck

    Something is a noun. Something is an adverb that means "a little" or "kind of." For example, "A thing is  _somewhat_ rare, or it’s _something_ of a rarity."

  • Palate vs. Palette vs. Pallet

    By Emily E. Steck

    You have a _palate_, which relates to taste. A color _palette_ is an assortment of colors. A _pallet_ is, among other things, something you sleep on.

  • Premier vs. Premiere

    By Emily E. Steck

    A _premier_ is a diplomat. A _premiere_ is a first performance or exhibition. British, Canadian and American spellings can confuse them; check with your style guide.

  • Loath vs. Loathe

    By Emily E. Steck

    _Loathe_ is a verb meaning to "dislike greatly." For example, "My boss is so mean. I _loathe_ him." _Loath_ is an adjective meaning "unwilling or reluctant." For example, "I am _loath_ to to spend time with my mother-in-law." _Loth_ is a variant of _loath_ and serves no purpose of its own; it is most common in U.K. English, though even U.K. writers prefer _loath_ by a significant margin. To sum up: "I _loathe_ when people use this word incorrectly, but I am too _loath_ to admit when I am wrong."

  • Insure vs. Ensure vs. Assure

    By Emily E. Steck

    You _insure_ cars. You _ensure_ personal success by working hard. And you _assure_ people.

  • A Letter's Difference

    By Emily E. Steck

    Paraphernalia, with an 'r.' Vinaigrette, by switching the 'a' and 'i.' Villain is not "illian" but (v)ain. Newsstand has two 's' as does transsexual.

  • Grisly vs. Grizzly vs. Gristly

    By Emily E. Steck

    Bears are _grizzly_. Crimes are _grisly_. Cheap meat is _gristly_.

  • Don't "Mispell" Misspell

    By Emily E. Steck

    Contrary to popular belief, it is spelled "misspell" with two "s" letters.

  • Ad Nauseam

    By Emily E. Steck

    _Ad nauseam_ is spelled with two 'a's not two 'u's. _Ad nauseam_ > ad nauseum.

  • Every day vs. Everyday

    By Emily E. Steck

    One goes to work _every day._ Working is an _everyday_ occurrence.

  • Capital vs. Capitol

    By Emily E. Steck

    A _capital_ is a city (or a letter, or part of a column). A _capitol_ is a building.

  • Blonde vs. Blond

    By Emily E. Steck

    When describing the color of someone's hair as _blond_, he is a blond man and she is a blond woman. Use the word _blonde_ to call a woman that. For example, "she's blonde."

  • Besides vs. Beside

    By Emily E. Steck

    _Besides_ is other than; _beside_ is next to. "_Besides,_ I get to see you." vs. "He placed the book _beside_ him."

  • Graduate From

    By Emily E. Steck

    You do not graduate school. You graduate _from_ school.

  • Peak/Peek/Pique

    By Emily E. Steck

    Use _peak_ to describe the top of a mountain. Use _peek_ to describe looking quickly. Use _pique_ to describe something that stimulates curiosity or causes irritation. "She _piqued_ my interest" or "He was _piqued_ by her curtness" or "They climbed to the mountain's _peak._"

  • Hyphenate Adjectives

    By Emily E. Steck

    Use compound adjectives when necessary to make things clearer. For instance, use "a _heavy-metal_ detector" rather than "a heavy metal detector." Otherwise, the latter implies the metal detector is quite heavy.

I’m a pessimist by nature but for the purpose of this blog I’ll play Angel’s Advocate: technology has made our jobs as writers better. Sure, job security is out the window and you have to be flawless to work in this industry, but we have access to information more than any generation that ever came before us! The world is at our fingertips, literally!

Image Credit: Nic McPhee

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