The English language seems to have an exception for every rule, and that makes it difficult to edit documents and make them seamless. In addition, each style guide has different rules, which can make editing confusing and daunting.
It is extremely important to make editing a part of your process to maintain credibility and professionalism. We have compiled a list of the top seven common errors found by editors, along with examples and tips to catch (and avoid using) those errors.
1. Inconsistency with Comma Use
The serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, is an optional comma that is used with items in a list.
Example (with serial comma): Common style guides include AP Style, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Microsoft Manual of Style.
Example (without serial comma): Common style guides include AP Style, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Microsoft Manual of Style.
Often, style guides will specify whether or not to use the serial comma. Both ways are correct, but it is important to stay consistent.
Here are a few additional ways that commas are used:
- Commas are used before a coordinating conjunction that separates two independent clauses.
Example: Independent clauses are complete sentences that can stand on their own, and dependent clauses are incomplete and cannot stand on their own.
- Commas are used to set aside introductory phrases, such as prepositional and infinitive phrases.
Example: In this instance, an introductory prepositional phrase is set aside with a comma.
- Commas are also used to set apart information that is not essential to the sentence.
Example: A good way to decide if the information is necessary to the meaning of the sentence, in most cases, is to read the sentence without the information separated by commas and see if it still makes sense.
2. Improper Alignment and Punctuation in Lists
Every item in a list should properly relate to the introduction.
Example: The following tips can help with aligning your lists:
- Start each item with the same part of speech (verb, noun, gerund, etc.).
- Read each item separately after the introduction to the list, and make sure each bullet point makes sense.
- Stay consistent, if possible, with using complete sentences or fragments for your items.
Use a colon to introduce a list when the words the following or as follows are stated or implied. Do not use a colon after a verb.
Example: Please consider the following ideas:
Example: The three ideas are (no colon)
Use a period after each item in a list when there is at least one complete sentence in the list.
Example: Consider the following ideas:
- Even if only one item in the list is a complete sentence, every item needs a period.
- You do not need to use a period after each item if they are all fragments.
- You do not have to put a period if the bullet contains three or fewer words.
- Numbered lists are used to describe steps that need to be followed in a particular order, and bulleted lists can be in any order.
3. Improper Use of Hyphens and Dashes
Hyphens link two or more words that would not normally be placed together, allowing them to work as one idea. While you typically hyphenate two-word adjectives before the noun, if an adjective is made of two words and is after the noun it describes, it is open.
Example: Oftentimes, using a hyphen is a style-related choice.
Example: When using a hyphen, the choice may be style related.
There are two types of dashes: the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). Both dashes can be used to set off information in a sentence, and the en dash is used to show ranges. To create an en dash, hold Alt, and type 0150. The keyboard shortcut for the em dash is Alt + 0151.
Example: Use spaces around an en dash – unless you are showing a range (10–20).
Example: Do not use spaces around an em dash—even though many people do.
4. Issues with Subject/Verb Agreement
There are many guidelines for how to make your subjects and verbs agree. Here are a few of them:
- When you have two or more nouns or pronouns in the subject connected by and, use a plural verb.
Example: Subjects and verbs are difficult to align.
- If you have two or more singular nouns or pronouns connected by or or nor, use a singular verb.
Example: A subject or a verb is not enough for a complete sentence.
- Don’t be confused by a phrase that is located between the subject and the verb. The verb needs to agree with the subject, not with the last word in the phrase.
Example: One of the instances is confusing.
5. Difficulty with Avoiding Gender Bias
It is strongly advisable to avoid using words such as he, her, or men as terms to describe both sexes. Most style guides do not recommend using he or she, she or he, he/she, etc. to avoid gender bias. Here are a few tips for avoiding gendered pronouns:
- Use plural nouns or pronouns, such as their or they. But, be sure the noun it takes the place of is plural.
- Incorrect: When a writer uses a pronoun in their writing, it should match in number and gender.
- Correct: When writers use a pronoun in their writing, it should match in number and gender.
- Replace pronouns with articles – for example, use the instead of his.
- Omit the pronoun if possible.
- Replace the pronoun with a more generic noun, such as individual, user, participant, person, etc.
- Rephrase the sentence.
6. Confusion with Which vs. That
It is easy to confuse when to use which and that in a sentence. That should be used to introduce a clause indispensable to the meaning of a sentence; in contrast, which should be used to introduce a clause that could be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Example: Relative pronouns that we use often are who, whom, which, and that.
Example: People often use relative pronouns incorrectly, which is why it is so important to learn the proper usage.
7. Trouble with Spelling and Articles
Most people rely on spell-checking tools to catch their spelling errors. Although sometimes helpful, this is not a reliable “proofread.” Even though the intended word is misspelled, it could still be a correctly spelled word.
Example: A through (thorough) proofread is a good method form (for) catching errors.
When typing quickly, it’s easy to leave out articles in sentences. When you proofread (especially your own work), your brain may automatically insert these small but important words, even if they aren’t present in the sentence.
Example: Reading (the) content aloud or having someone else read (the) content helps reduce errors.
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