Does it bother you when people bite their nails?
Most people have a pet peeve, and readers are no different. Bad writing habits or mistakes can set readers on edge. How can you find out if you are unintentionally irritating your audience? Check out this list of some of the most hated writing habits.
Perplexed Possessives and ContractionsPeople might overlook this small annoyance in text messages, but they find it difficult to let it pass in formal writing. In fact, some readers get downright irate when people misuse possessive pronouns and contractions. Your and their are possessive pronouns. They’re and you’re are contractions. You’re is the contraction, or shortened form, of you are. They’re is the contraction of they are. To figure out whether to use a possessive pronoun or a contraction, expand the contraction to its full form. Then, ask yourself if the sentence still makes sense.
You’re going to be late. You are going to be late.
The sentence is logical. You’re is correct.
You’re car is running. You are car is running.
The sentence doesn’t work. Don’t use the contraction.
You can use the same rule of thumb to decide between their and they’re. However, there is one more word that is often confused with these two homophones—there. There can be used in a lot of different ways, but it might help to remember that there is the opposite of here. You can substitute here for there and see if your sentence still makes sense.
Commas Everywhere or Nowhere at AllIt is difficult to remember when to use a comma. Some writers add them haphazardly and others avoid them like the plague. What rules govern comma usage? Consult the Business Insider article, “13 Rules for Using Commas Without Looking Like an Idiot.”
Long, Long, LongA reader may lose interest or become confused if sentences or paragraphs are excessively long. While proofreading, eliminate unnecessary words. Ask yourself if all the sentences in a paragraph support its main idea. Move or eliminate any that don’t.
Catachresis and SesquipedalianismSome people think the longest word they know is always the best one to use. However, there are dangers in using unnecessarily long or obscure words. You might alienate readers who don’t understand such terms. You might seem pretentious. You might use the word incorrectly. The best way to avoid this habit is to write with your audience in mind and to double-check the meaning of any unusual words.
Questionable QuotesWhen you throw a quote into your writing and don’t add any context, readers may not understand the connection. Introduce the quote (or follow it) with an explanation that plainly shows why it is relevant to the topic at hand.
Redundancy, or Saying the Same Thing Over AgainWriters following a major news story may run out of fresh information. Instead of waiting for a new development, they spin the same old information into article after article. Other writers may need to hit a certain word count, so they restate what they have already written. Both tendencies are annoying. There’s no quick fix for this flaw. Just don’t do it!
PlagiarismA writer who passes off the work of another author as his own without authorization runs the risk of losing the respect of his peers. Granted, some plagiarism is unintentional—the result of misunderstanding how to give proper credit to the appropriate source. However, ignorance is no excuse. There are many online guides to help writers avoid this faux pas.
Trying to Sound Like Other PeopleSome writers don’t plagiarize, but they do mimic (sometimes poorly) the style of other authors. Mimicking other writers for practice is a good way to develop skills, but successful writers must eventually develop their own distinctive voice. You can do the same. Make sure your published work sounds like you. There is one special exception; some writers are commissioned to write in the style of deceased authors, such as V.C. Andrews, to continue their legacy. However, these writers spend an immense amount of time perfecting their craft by studying everything about the authors and their writing.
Review some of your recent work with an objective eye. Are you committing the writing equivalent of chewing with your mouth open? Remember, these are common bad habits. They are all fixable. What’s the first step in fixing a problem? It’s admitting that it exists. And if you are being driven up the wall by the bothersome writing habits of others? Look on the bright side. You can’t control whether someone chews with their mouth open, but you can turn a page.