The Top 9 Writing Mistakes And How To Fix Them

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Wimpy Words Make Writing BoringBlog posts. Articles. Ebooks. Ezines.  Case studies. Slidedecks. Stories. Your bio. Press releases. White Papers.

If you need to create content but you can’t write well, spend five minutes on this crash course. Follow my advice, and you’ll improve your writing.

When I  worked as a writing coach at a daily newspaper 20 years ago, I introduced reporters to my list of the Top 9 Writing Mistakes. Within minutes, and with a little practice, they improved their writing.

You will too.

Here are the most common mistakes:

1) Wordiness

This occurs most often among people in academia or in the corporate suite. They think $25 words make them sound smart or important. But $5 words make it easier for people to understand them.

If you came from either world, don’t let bad habits learned there creep into your writing. It should be so easy to read that a tenth-grader can understand it.

Shorten the phrases or words in the left column below to the words in the right column.

Change This:                                            To This:

after the conclusion of                                after

at the present time                                      now

in accordance with                                      by

in view of the fact                                        since

on a timely basis                                          fast

the necessary funds                                    money

signage                                                          signs

roadway                                                        road

in lieu of                                                        instead

due to the fact that                                     since

with the exception of                                 except

2) Overusing any form of  “to be”

It includes “is,” “are,” “was,” “were” and “would be.”

After you write something, print it. Underline every verb. If you see any of those lazy words or phrases, try to replace them with stronger verbs.

3) Weak verbs followed by prepositions

Instead of saying “get up,” you can use verbs like “awaken,” “stand,” “rise” or “climb.”

Strong verbs that mean the same as “fall down” include “collapse,” “trip,” “fumble” and “stumble.” They help paint a visual picture.

4) Lack of details

Describing the girl as “6 feet, 2 inches” beats saying “she’s tall.”

At night, in the middle of the forest, you can’t see the wolf in the dark. But describing the forest as “pitch black” makes readers feel as though they’re there.

Saying “The temperature inside the car reached 120 degrees” helps readers better understand the severity of the problem. It’s more specific than saying, “It was hot inside the car.”

5) Vague or abstract words and phrases.

They include:

“A large number” of babies born out of wedlock.

“The type of exercise” people hate most.

The word “thing,” as in “There’s this thing he does that annoys me” or ” She placed the things in the box.”

 6) Writing in the passive voice instead of the active voice

Active voice describes a sentence in which the subject performs the action stated in the verb. In passive voice sentences, the subject is acted upon by the verb.

Passive voice: The book was placed on the table by the boy.

Active voice: The boy placed the book on the table.

You can find many more examples of the active and passive voice here.

 7) Overworked words. Also known as empty words or wimpy words

They include:

  • Essentially
  • Absolutely
  • Basically
  • Very
  • Really
  • In essence

Ricardo McRae lists more wimpy words here.

8) Business Jargon

This mistake deserves its own article! It includes:

  • End-user perspective
  • Pushing the envelope
  • Thinking outside the box
  • At the end of the day
  • Throwing anyone under the bus
  • Heavy lifting
  • Kept in the loop

…ad nauseum

See this Forbes article on The Most Annoying, Pretentious and Useless Business Jargon.

9) Rambling Sentences

I plucked these samples from online press releases. All include business jargon, industry lingo and $25 words that make my eyes glaze over.

  • Merex specializes in logistics, distribution and supply of spare parts, in-house product engineering and specialty manufacturing, FAA and military repair and overhaul capability at its ALCO Services subsidiary, repair management, and overall project management.
  • This approach that has led to a strong strategic partnership and $100 billion in two-way trade by growing bilateral investments, increasing cooperation in defense, and building a shared knowledge economy —all of which will continue to create much needed jobs in both countries for years to come.
  • Reynolds and his team at SupplyPro designed SupplyScale to take full advantage of SupplyPro’s software, SupplyPort™, which delivers automated inventory management and vendor integration; comprehensive reporting; superior ease-of-use; enterprise-wide administration; and the flexibility to adapt to customer work flow and business processes.

If you want an accurate tool that identifies bad writing and shows you how to fix it, try the Hemingway App. 

First, highlight all the text already on the page and hit Delete. Click on “Write” and start writing. Or click on “Edit” and paste your text into the window. The app will give you a color-coded critique.

Hemingway App

Yellow highlights long, complex sentences and common errors. Red identifies dense, complicated sentences like the ones from the press releases above.

Blue shows you adverbs that you can remove and replace with more forceful verbs. Purple points out $25 words. Green flags you to the passive voice.

You’ll love this tool! I pasted this entire post into the app before publishing it. I saw lots of colors on the screen and corrected my errors.

The Hemingway app also ranks the readability of your copy. This post scores “Grade 6” which means children in the sixth grade can understand it.

My grade will horrify the college professors. But I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for you!

Your turn… which mistake(s) hit home for you? Be brave and declare in the comments your intention to fix your writing mistakes!

Joan Stewart
Publicity expert Joan Stewart coaches business owners on how to promote their expertise by creating content and generating free publicity. Subscribe to her twice-a-week email tips at PublicityHound.com. Joan lives (and tries to stay warm) in Port Washington, Wis., where her German Shorthaired Pointer, Bogie, takes her on walks twice a day.
Joan Stewart
Joan Stewart

Comments

  1. Hi Joan,

    This is an informative post indeed.
    You are right most of people don’t focus at the way they write. It’s always recommended that for every writer it’s really important to focus on such simple things described by you.
    I am totally agree with your points.

    Thanks for sharing this post with us.

    ~Ravi

  2. I am sixty five years old and new to writing, The Hemingway app is so useful. Thank you so much for this post.

    • I’ve been around almost as long as you have, Steve, and I can’t believe I first heard about this one a few months ago! I’m so glad you stopped by.

  3. Good advice, Joan. I also suggest printing a hard copy of your words and read them aloud. Reading a hard copy will enable you to find typos much more easily than reading on a computer screen, and reading out loud will help you understand what your words really sound like to someone else.

    • Michelle, it seems like ANYTHING is easier than reading on a computer screen, and your idea is a good one especially for people who are auditory learners. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  4. As usual you have such great tips to share! I am definitely going to check out the Hemingway App. Thanks!

  5. Fabulous article, Joan! I only wish the Hemingway App was available as a desktop version.

  6. Really interesting post, especially the bit about keeping it simple. I work as a scientific writer, where we’re told to target a 9-year-old reader so that everyone can understand what we say, even when it’s very technical. Moving from that to adult fiction has been an incredible leap in writing style. (Some days it’s like having two boats, and one foot in each.) My writing sin? Passive voice.

    • Thanks for admitting your sin, Tracey. I can just see lots of readers nodding their heads, thinking, “Me too.” And I’m delighted to hear that you’re writing science articles aimed at 9-year-olds. So much science writing is way over adults’ heads.

  7. The Hemingway App is outstanding! Thanks for the tip, Joan.

  8. Great article, Joan! Thank you.

  9. Excellent “crash course” Joan. I think I’m guilty of all nine mistakes at some point or another. One word I detest is “utilize.” “Use” works just as well, if not better. Thanks for another outstanding post for The Future of Ink!