While recently doing some research I came across a statement which said: “You will be judged, for your entire life, on the basis of how well you write. If you write well, people will think you are smart. If you write poorly, they will think you are dumb. That is perhaps unfair, but it is the reality, and you might as well face it now.”
Strong words, perhaps, but they do contain some truth. As marketers (and by extension, copywriters), our words are often judged harshly.
Writing may not be your strength, but the attention you pay to it can be the difference between someone who fixates on the mistakes dismissing your message instantly, and someone who will take the time to absorb your words, and if you’re lucky, pass them on. With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the most common (and easily fixable) mistakes people make in their writing:
There is a funny example circulating on the Web that shows a cash register with a sign next to it that says, “No checks excepted.” Taken literally, that sign says the business will take any check you write – with no exceptions. I’m fairly sure that’s not what the business owner wanted to communicate.
Of course that may seem obvious. But often people get in a rush and use misspellings which actually mean something other than they intended. Here are a few of the most common:
- Lose instead of loose. I want to lose a few pounds, not demonstrate that I’m free from restraint (i.e., loose).
- Then versus than. He wanted to go to the river and then the library, not instead of it (i.e., than)
- Whether instead of weather. Cynthia needed to decide whether or not to go, not to check the ambient temperature (i.e., weather).
- Choose instead of chose. She had to choose the best solution, but in the end chose the easiest route.
And then there are the just plain wrong misspellings:
- A lot versus alot. It is always correct to use a space in the word a lot simply because alot is not a word.
- Definitely versus definitaly or definitealy. There is no “a” in definitely – ever.
- Weird instead of wierd. Just remember – i before e, except after c (there are a few exceptions, but this almost always holds true).
Time for Scrabble
Another common practice similar to accidental misspellings is choosing the wrong word. And, believe me – it’s easy to get confused on some of these:
- Effect or affect. Remember that effect is almost always a noun, while affect is a verb. I pushed him over the edge of the cliff to see the effect it would have on his disposition, but I don’t think it affected it at all.
- If or whether. The rule of thumb is to use whether when stating alternatives (e.g., She had to decide whether to choose the Prada shoes or go with Louboutin.). Use if when it’s a conditional situation (e.g., you can borrow my mink coat only if you return it in perfect condition.)
- Who or that. Things are that; people are not. For example, I know someone who can organize your closet in no time, but choosing a closet organization system that really works is tough.
- I or me. Use I when you are the subject of a sentence and use mewhen you are the object. The easiest way to tell when you’ve got it right is to remove the other noun or person from the sentence and see if it still makes sense. For example:
- “Priscilla and I went to Bora Bora last week.” “I went to Bora Bora last week.” “Me went to Bora Bora last week” doesn’t make sense, so I is correct.
- “You know you want to come to Bora Bora with Priscilla and me.” “You know you want to come to Bora Bora with me” does make sense, so me is the right choice.
Are You Possessed?
Another place people get into trouble is with choosing the right form of a word; meaning, should you use the possessive or a contraction? For example, your versus you’re. Your is possessive, meaning that whatever is being talked about belongs to you. You’re is a contraction of you are.
- Your dog is hideously ugly.
- You’re the owner of a hideously ugly dog.
The same rule applies to their (possessive) and they’re (a contraction of they are):
- Their house is exquisite.
- They’re the owners of an exquisite house.
And don’t forget about there, which indicates a location and should not be confused with ownership or a statement of being:
- He said to check over there for the book. Not, he said to check over their for the book.
Last, but certainly not least, don’t mix up its (possessive) with it’s (a contraction of it is or it has):
- The cheetah’s spotted coat reflects its beauty and camouflage abilities in the jungle.
- It’s a fact that the cheetah is a beautiful animal.
At the end of the day, if you do nothing else, do a quick spell check on your copy. While that may seem obvious it’s amazing how many people overlook it (myself included!). Spell checkers are pretty smart and while they won’t catch everything, they will spot a lot of problems for you. And that’s pretty cheap insurance in the game of being awesome.
Want to learn more? Check out this article on spotting common grammar and punctuation mistakes!
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