Now that I have a master’s degree in writing and am the digital content editor here at Career Girl Network, I hear a lot of repeat questions and concerns. Mainly, people ask me if I think their writing is terrible, or if I think they are “dumb.” Some friends are afraid to send me a text message with a typo, for fear I’ll think less of them.
Let’s get this out of the way: I am not judging you for your typos or minor errors. And if you have an editor or proofreader who makes you feel dumb and who belittles you — get rid of him or her. That’s not what a good editor does. A good editor is a teacher, not a bully. And believe me, I’ve met a lot of editing bullies — they sometimes like to call themselves “grammar nazis.” No, no, and no! I am not that — I am a Grammar Enthusiast.
As an editor and Grammar Enthusiast, I thought I’d share which errors I look for when I’m editing. These errors are very, very common — in fact, when I’m in a rush, I can make them too! The beauty of having an editor is that it’s a second eye; it’s a second look at your work. Even editors need editors. That said, here’s what I look for:
- Incorrect word forms. We’re all familiar with these. You use your when you should be using you’re, it’s instead of its, there instead of their. If your work is riddled with these errors, it can be a red flag to a potential employer, client, or investor. Make sure you look up and really know the difference between it’s and its. Keep a cheat sheet on your desk if you need to.
- Mismatched tenses. Sometimes you start out writing in past tense and then, without noticing, you switch to the present. When you’re reading it back to yourself, you probably won’t even notice. Sometimes switching tenses as you tell a story is appropriate, but if you find that you started in one tense and ended in another, take a step back and reevaluate.
- Mismatched pronouns. There were many times when I received a lecture from a managing editor in a newsroom to stop calling a company or organization “they” instead of “it.” Also, if you’re talking about one person, then you mean “he” or “she” and not “they.”
- Redundant or repetitive writing. Are you starting every sentence with the same phrase, and it’s not there to provide emphasis? Starting several sentences in a row with “I” or “There is” are just some examples. We all have certain go-to phrases, but we have to watch for when these become redundant and unnecessary in our writing.
- Misuse or overuse of punctuation. We all fall into routines, and sometimes that means we use a lot of commas, a lot of semicolons, a lot of ellipses, or a lot of dashes. When you’re using a particular one often, you begin to use it incorrectly, and don’t consider which form of punctuation is actually best for the flow of the sentence. (This could really be a whole separate post.) For now, I will say that I look for variety and misuse. Your writing will be stronger once you learn to use all the punctuation tools in your writing toolkit.
- Wordiness. As a former broadcast journalist, I was always taught to believe less is more: The shorter the sentence is, the better. This isn’t always possible, and you should have a variety of short and long sentences, but make sure every word serves a purpose in your sentence. Sometimes people think using certain words will make them sound more intelligent. A lot of times, those words aren’t needed to get your point across.
These are the basics of what I look for and what you can also watch for in your writing. None of us are perfect, and none of us churn out amazingly perfect rough drafts — or even second or third drafts. Go easy on yourself! Editors are here for a reason, and we want to help.