My Personal Top 10
As the year winds to a close, a lot of top 10 lists pop up: best movies, best books, best restaurants, and so on. My list consists of the top 10 mistakes I’ve seen this year during my editing work. Do any of these look familiar?
1. Misusing there and their. Here’s an easy way to determine the right word: their shows possession and is almost always followed by a noun. Thus, “There goes the year” and “Their decorations are great” are correct.
2. Misusing hyphens and dashes. A hyphen should only be used in a hyphenated word (first-rate, top-notch, etc.). An en dash, a bit longer, should be used when denoting time (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.), while the longest, the em dash, should be used when you’re “setting off” copy (My niece — who attends Michigan State — just aced her finals).
3. Leaving two spaces after a period. This is old school, but it seems many people can’t kick the habit. One space suffices.
4. Using “fussy” words. I’ve said this before: “Write to express, not impress.” Thus, using words like peruse (instead of read) and plethora (instead of many) is apt to backfire, as readers prefer simple prose.
5. Overusing that. More times than not, removing that from a sentence doesn’t affect the meaning, but your text is cleaner.
6. Misusing who and that. Of these two words, only who refers to people. Thus, “those who cheer for the Chicago Cubs are still on cloud 9,” is correct.
7. Using single quotes incorrectly. The only time a single quote should be used is when it appears within material that’s already in quotes. Thus, my nephew is ‘hot’ is incorrect, while “All the girls believe my nephew is ‘hot'” is correct.
8. Being too wordy. I often get tasked with significantly shortening copy, and I’m always able to do it without sacrificing content. What does that mean? The original was too wordy. Less is more!
9. Making inconsistent lists. Look at this list; notice a pattern? The first word of every point ends in -ing. That was by design, as it enhances the flow of the copy.
10. Failing to proofread. This is an epidemic. Whether you use a professional or have a colleague eyeball your work, proofreading shouldn’t be neglected. See Proof It Twice below to discover the “cost” of failing to include that step.
Proof It Twice
Thanks to Kathryn Cloward for bring this gem to my attention. In advertising a Christmas sale, Dillard’s used the following copy: “A special appearance by Satan between the hours of 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. for your kids.” Hmmm…certainly not the intended message! (Also, it would have been cleaner to write “between 5 and 9 p.m.”)
What a Year!
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who used my services in 2016. Your support allowed me to add my precious dependent, Cubbie, to my household. (Dogs are expensive!) Think it’s a coincidence that five months after I adopted him, a lifelong dream came true when the Cubs won the World Series?