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How to identify and avoid common Writing errors
Writing errors will cast a shadow on your work
Were you ever told that your essay or article read well, then upon rereading the submission found writing errors that were embarrassing? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. Many writers frequently discover writing errors after submitting articles for publication.
As writers, we want to believe that we are conveying useful information to the public. However, you may be amazed at how much more is being conveyed from our syntactic presentation. While many people who read our articles may stay focused on the substance, there are others who are interested in our grammar, punctuation and format.
As a Legal Nurse Consultant, I have written many reports and affidavits of merits for attorneys. After completion of these reports I try to dedicate extra time for spelling and grammar checks to prevent errors.
I have learned that my written product will make more of an impact if it is delivered without mistakes.
Some common errors that will cast a shadow on our writing are as follows:
- Faulty Parallelism
- Hanging/Dangling Prepositions
- Improper use of the passive voice
- Improper use of commonly confused words
Parallelism means using the same pattern of words to express similarities or differences. A sentence is parallel if the clauses and phrases within its body have the same grammatical structure. Parallel sentences improves clarity and style.
Faulty parallelism occurs when items that are not amenable to comparisons are compared. As a writer, you may inadvertently use word elements that are unequal to express ideas related to items that are supposed to match. When comparing and contrasting items, you should try to use parallel structures or faulty parallelism may occur.You will avoid faulty parallelism if you use the same grammar format to discuss items on a list or items that are in series.
Generally, when correlative conjunctions such as; neither nor, either or, are used to connect clauses, the items joined must be parallel. When coordinating conjunctions such as; but, and, because, are used to join words or phrases, the words and phrases must have the same grammar structure.
Examples of sentences with faulty parallelism:
- Mario likes hunting, cooking and to ride bikes.
- John likes to jog and eating large meals.
- Mary will be winning the dance competition but win the art competition because she paints very well.
- Would you prefer to go to the beach or staying at the pool?
- Neither singing or dance would qualify as acceptable talents for the contest.
You may revise the above sentences in the following ways:
- Mario likes hunting, cooking and riding bikes.
- John likes jogging and eating large meals.
- Mary will not only win the dance competition, but also win the art competition because she paints very well.
- Would you prefer going to the beach or staying at the pool?
- Neither singing nor dancing would qualify as acceptable talents for the contest.
Is your writing Impeccable?
Have you ever made a written submission that had multiple errors?
Explanation of how the five sentences above attained parallel structures:
- The words in the first sentence are joined by the coordinating conjunction "and." As such, it needs to have the same grammar structure. This sentence was made parallel by removing the infinitive "to run" and using similar verb forms, "hunting" "cooking" and "running," creating the same grammar structure.
- The second sentence with the coordinating conjunction “and,” was made parallel by using similar "-ing" verbs "jogging" and "eating."
- The third sentence was made parallel by using the same verb forms "win" in each clause and by using matching correlative conjunction "not only" and "but also" on opposite sides creating clarity.
- The fourth sentence with the preposition “or” became parallel by matching the "-ing” verb form "going" with "staying."
- The fifth sentence was made parallel by adding the correct conjunction “nor” and by using matching "-ing" verb forms "singing" and "dancing."
The best way to avoid faulty parallelism is to review these rules and set aside adequate time to edit your writing.
Parallelism in poetry
Parallelism is very important in poetry. Parallelism in poetry or songs create a powerful effect by allowing readers to focus on relevant words that convey feelings.
Readers are more likely to understand and be impacted by a poem if the ideas conveyed in the sentences are parallel in similarity and contrast. The sounds, rhyme and mood in a poem must also be parallel.
For example, these two verses of my poem show parallelism:
Master of Poetry
You tug and pull at your reader’s heartstrings
Though hurt and rejected of love still sings
Your magic with words deep expressions of pain
Elevate us to heights others can never attain
You challenge our minds compel us to feel
The anguish of others so we know it is real
You touch deep emotions and in an artful way
Pierce deep in our souls with the things you say
Note carefully that I used words with similar ideas to convey a similar mood in each sentence. For example; "tug" and "pull," "hurt" and "rejected," "deep" and "pain," "elevate" and "heights," "challenge" and "compel," "felt" and "real," touch" and "emotions" pierce" and "deep."
Rhyming is another type of parallelism. Rhyming is the repetition of vowel and consonant sounds. Note that I repeatedly used similar vowel and consonant sounds in my poem to convey my message. For example, "strings" with "sings," "pain" with "attain" and "feel" with "real."
Rhyming without reason such as using the word "pain" with "main" in the above poem would be considered faulty parallelism.
Alliteration is another type of parallelism. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound that is often used in poetry to make poems more effective.
(1) She sells sea shells by the seashore. Note that most of the words in this sentence starts with the "s" sound.
(2) Barry brought the bat that bruised Bart, it was badly bent and broken in one area." Note that most of the words in this sentence have a "b" sound.
Using consonant sounds for the sound effect without placing them in a cohesive sentence is considered faulty parallelism. For example, using the word "brave" instead of "broken" (just for the "b" sound) in the second sentence would be considered faulty parallelism.
Assonance is another type of parallelism. Assonance is the use of the same vowel sounds in words that form a sentence.
(1) I must confess that in my quest I felt depressed and restless (By Thin Lizzy). Note the use of the "e" vowel sound in this sentence.
(2) They tossed the dice twice to see who should catch the mice and and kill the lice.
Note the "i" vowel sounds in this sentence.
Creation of matching vowels in a sentence for no logical reason is also considered faulty parallelism. For example, using the word "vest" instead of "quest" in the first sentence is faulty parallelism.
Rhyme, assonance and alliteration must be consistent. As such, if you start using them in the first paragraphs of your poem or song, you should be consistent in their use or you will sound like an amateur author or artist .
The use of hanging or dangling prepositions is another common writing error. Prepositions are words used to express a relationship between words or elements in a clause. They usually precede nouns and pronouns. Some examples of prepositions are: at, on, to, from, in, next, off, out, and down.
The term hanging or dangling preposition is used to describe a preposition that is placed at the end of a sentence or clause. Sentences with hanging prepositions are said to be weak and sound awkward when read.
As a writer, you should try not to end sentences with prepositions. Simply rearranging the order of words may often transform an unnatural sounding sentence into the acceptable English form.
“I like the boss that I worked for.”
This sentence looks and sounds unnatural. This sentence can be properly transformed to:
“I like the boss for which I worked.”
The strategy here is to add a relative pronoun to your sentence then relocate the preposition adjacent to it. A relative pronoun is a pronoun that is used to introduce a relative clause.
The following examples show how this works:
- Her mother found the spot where she fell at.
- Which team is he talking about?
- Whom do they send it to?
- I am angry with the girl that I spoke to.
- That is the girl that he ran away with.
- That is the hospital that she was discharged from.
- Her mother found the spot at which she fell.
- About which team is he talking?
- To whom does it get sent?
- I am angry with the girl to whom I spoke.
- That is the girl with whom he ran away.
- That is the hospital from which she was discharged.
Explanation of how the six examples above were revised to eliminate the hanging prepositions:
- First sentence: The preposition "at" was removed from the end of the sentence and the relative pronoun "which" was added.
- Second sentence: The preposition "about" was removed from end of the sentence and the relative pronoun "which" was added.
- Third sentence: The preposition "to" was removed from end of the sentence and the relative pronoun "whom" was added.
- Fourth sentence: The preposition "to" was removed from end of the sentence and the relative pronoun "whom" was added.
- Fifth sentence: The preposition "with" was removed from end of the sentence and the relative pronoun "whom" was added.
- Sixth sentence: The preposition "from" was removed from end of the sentence and relative pronoun "which" was added.
As you can tell, the second set of sentences look and sound natural after being corrected.
Some people have a tendency to automatically add prepositions to certain verbs. Try not to do this.
Examples of verbs with automatic hanging prepositions:
You will agree with me that the verbs on the left are capable of conveying their meanings without the use of the attached prepositions.
Try not to confuse hanging prepositions with phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is a verb that combines with a preposition (or with an adverb and a preposition) to convey the meaning of the verb.
Example of phrasal verbs and their meanings are:
Back up- Move back
Give up- Quit
Break up- End of relationship
Went out-Couple out on a date
Ask out-Boy asks a girl for a date
Make up- To forgive
Many people who speak Creole and Patois tend to hang prepositions on their verbs. As such, the tendency to attach these propositions is sometimes culturally ingrained. If you have this problem, then saying a sentence out loud before writing it may be helpful.
One rule of thumb is to avoid using prepositions if they do nothing to change the meaning of the verbs or make verbs redundant.
Read aloud to identify the passive voice
The Passive Voice
When using the spelling and grammar checker on your computer, you may get an occasional warning that you are using the passive voice. You should never ignore this warning. You are using the passive voice when you allow the subject(agent) of a sentence to be acted on by a verb. In contrast, an active voice allows the subject to perform the action. Use of the passive voice is usually discouraged because it may result in unclear communication.
Examples of sentences using the passive voice:
- The boy was scratched by the cat.
- The gun was fired by the gunman.
- The bag was dropped by the woman.
- The book was written by Sarah.
- Joe was punched by Jonah.
- The burger was eaten by Kim.
These sentences that were converted to the active voice now read:
- The cat scratched the boy.
- The gunman fired the gun.
- The woman dropped the bag.
- Sarah wrote the book.
- Jonah punched Joe.
- Kim ate the burger.
Each revised sentence above now identifies the nouns (agents) as the performers of the actions. The nouns; cat, gunman, woman, Sarah, Jonah and Kim are no longer being acted upon by the verbs, scratched, fired, dropped, wrote, punched and ate respectively.
According to experts, use of the passive voice is preferred (especially by people in the sciences) when the actor is irrelevant, unknown, obvious or already mentioned. 
Here are examples in which use of the passive voice is preferred:
- The security guard is being notified that a resident left the nursing home in his wheel-chair.
- A genetic test for retardation was successfully performed last Monday.
The actions in the above sentences are more significant that the actors. As such, highlighting them effectively conveys the message.
General rules related to active and passive voice
As a general rule, to transform a passive voice into an active voice you should change the subject into the object. In other words, just make the subject the performer of the action.
Similarly, to change an active voice into a passive voice you must change the object into the agent. Simply put, make what is being acted upon, the subject of the sentence. The words “by the” usually tells you what or whom is engaging in an action.
Changing from the passive voice to the active voice:
- Rearrange the sentence by placing the noun or pronoun agent first and remove the word “by.”
Passive voice: The food (agent) is being eaten by most of the guests (object).
Active voice: Most of the guests (agent) are eating the food (object).
- Change the verb form:
Passive voice: We will discuss how our reports (agent) can be used (verb) to clarify the problem.
Active voice: We (agent) will discuss how to use (verb) our reports (object) to clarify the problem.
Changing from the active voice to the passive voice:
Active voice: John’s parents (agent) opposed (verb) the guidance counselor’s decision (object).
Passive voice: The guidance counselor’s decision (agent) was opposed (verb) by John’s parents (object).
In contrast, the opposite effect is achieved by placing the object first, adding the word “by” and changing the verb from "opposed" to "was opposed."
Reading aloud is one of the best ways to identify the passive voice. Try to find a family member or friend who will listen. Remember that an active voice is always preferred over a passive voice. Restructuring your sentences from the passive voice to an active voice may significantly improve the quality of your work. Use of the active voice instead of a passive voice allows your sentences to come alive.
Avid readers are better writers
A sentence may be described at times as being wordy. Wordiness is the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning. You may avoid wordiness by using short precise statements or single words.
This is an example of a sentence that is too wordy:
Despite the fact that they made numerous projections and promises, promising many times repeatedly to complete the project in less than two weeks, I think somehow they will continue to work on it for four more weeks.
One way of correcting wordy sentences such as this, is by replacing long phrases with one word or with simpler expressions. As such, this sentence when revised may read; the project will not be completed within the projected time frame, but will require four more weeks for completion. As you can see, use of the words; promises and promising; many times and repeatedly, are redundant.
As writers, we sometimes use redundancies and common set phrases that should be avoided. Common examples with highlighted simplifications are:
- At first, I initially-Initially
- In view of the fact that- Because
- Unresponsive and unable to communicate-Unresponsive
- In some cases-Sometimes
- In my own personal opinion- I believe
- Concerning the matter of-About
Some types of frequently used redundancies and their simplifications are:
- Various different types-Various
- The end result-Result
- Background experience-Background
- True facts-True
- It is crystal clear-Clear
- Connected together-Connected
Avoid these redundancies and set phrases by using single words or the least amount of words necessary to convey meaning.
Incorrect: I reviewed various different types of plants.
Correct: I reviewed various plants.
Incorrect: The golden links were connected together.
Correct: The golden links were connected.
Incorrect: At first I initially chose the red blouse.
Correct: I initially chose the red blouse.
The above corrected sentences show that one word is often adequate to convey meaning. Try to avoid using writer commentaries if possible. These commentaries are also redundant and do nothing to improve your content.
"As I have already pointed out, children with attention deficit disorder are more likely to get poor grades in school."
Revised: "Children with attention deficit are more likely to get poor grades in school."
Remember that wordy sentences are more difficult to read. Adding extra words to reach a word count requirement is usually a bad idea. Remember that quantity does not always mean quality. Excess words also cause confusion and may detract from the message that you are trying to convey.
Improper use of commonly confused words
Your spelling and grammar checker will alert you when you have used a commonly confused word. Use of an incorrect word may convey the wrong message to readers. This problem can be avoided by learning some common look-alike and sound-alike words.
Example of sentences using commonly confused words:
Incorrect: It's a bad day. (Wrong. "Its" indicate ownership)
Correct: It's a bad day.
Incorrect: I tried to allude him. (Wrong. You are not trying to make a reference)
Correct: I tried to elude him.
Incorrect: I lay in my bed at night. (Wrong. You are reclining not trying to place an item down)
Correct: I lie in my bed at night.
Incorrect: I tried to council him. (Wrong. This council is a noun)
Correct: I tried to counsel him.
Think carefully about the parts of speech needed to complete sentences before deciding which word to use. An adjective is necessary to describe an act or person. A verb is needed to demonstrate an act. A noun is required to identify a subject.
Look at these example when deciding whether to use “breathe” or “breath”:
I watched him breathe (verb) with great difficulty.
I could smell the alcohol on his breath (noun).
I have provided a list of commonly confused look-alike-sound-alike words that should be helpful to you. Please note that this list is not all-inclusive. Remember to look up the definition of words if you are unsure of which word to use.
Commonly confused look alike/ sound alike words
Look alike/sound alike word
Look alike/sound alike word
to take or receive
space between rows
to cause a change (verb) feeling of emotion (noun)
to bring about (verb) result or outcome(noun)
to indirectly make a reference
climb or upward movement
introduces or implies a reason
during or throughout a period of time
intermediate of two points
air taken in
to take in air
to advise or guide, advocate (noun)
assembly or group of advisory body
to draw out
moreover, to a greater degree
length in distance
impending or about to take place
projecting or conspicuous
it has, it is
(possessive pronoun) belonging
similar, same way
as compared(as hot as)
to recline your body
to put something down
to fail to keep or maintain
a pronuon to indicate a thing, person or idea
a relative and interrogative pronoun
to go in one side and out the another
informal abbreviation for thru
right from wrong
outlook or attitude
pinnacle or point
control (noun) guide(verb)
principle or opinion
reason or understanding
to move back and forth
refers to subject (Bob is the person who)
refers to object (whom did the manager select?)
Tips to Improve your Writing
- Become familiar with common types of writing errors.
- Dedicate enough time to review and edit your writing before submitting it for review or publication.
- Read sentences aloud and listen to the way they sound.
- Pay attention to the spelling and grammar checker on your computer.
- Buy a commercial proofreading and grammar software because the software on your computer is not always reliable.
- Memorize common look-alike/sound-alike words.
The best way to prevent errors is to take time to review and edit your work. You will improve upon each document that you write by examining the mistakes that you made in prior submissions.
Reading aloud is also a good idea. Reading aloud allows you to hear what others hear. If your ideas do not sound clear and organized to you, they will sound even worse to others. Please note that proof-reading software is available that will help to enhance your writing.
A well written document suggests to others that you have properly researched or mastered a subject area and feel comfortable about your presentation.
References and Resources
 APA Style. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/use-parentheses.aspx
 Parallelism. Wikipedia. Retrieved from:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faulty_parallelism
 An internet Pilgrims Guide to Stranded Prepositions. Retrieved from: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000743.html
 Phrasal verbs. Merrian Webster. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phrasal%20verb
 Choosing a Passive Voice. Purdue University Online writing lab. Retrieved from: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/04/
Cecile D. Portilla March 20, 2014