Have no mercy. Cast them out of your copy. Now. These are vital corrections to make when you edit your writing before publication, otherwise you will look like an amateur.
I know the second one is controversial. Get over it. Straighten up and fly right.
Most readers aren’t going to read your article until they can see that it’s useful to them. So tell them, straight away, in the headline, first paragraph or both, what your article is about and why they should read it.
The longer you waffle about some metaphor for the topic or how you felt getting up today or – look at me, I’m actually writing a blog post – the greater the chance that the next part of the page to receive attention will be the back button.
2. Verb and subject disagreement
The consultant is a singular subject. Therefore he makes phone calls, adds items to his diary and is overjoyed when it’s time for lunch.
My colleagues are a plural subject. Therefore they make fun of my haircut, add amusing accents to their impressions and are thrilled when I throw Victoria sponge around the office.
Everyone is a singular subject. Although it involves more than one person, the focus is on every one, singular. Therefore everyone makes time for SmyWord, adds this blog to his or her favourites, and is happy to leave a comment below.
The same applies to no one and everybody – they are singular. They and them are plural. Never the twain shall meet.
3. Shifting person
Choose what person each of the parties in your article is going to be, and whether they are single or plural, and stick to it for the duration of the article. For example, in most of my blog posts there are three main parties:
- The writer
- The reader
- The people the writer is talking to the reader about (e.g. users)
The writer is me. So I use I, me and my. If I was writing on behalf of a company, it might be we, us and our. Just as long as it is the same all the way through the article.
Steer clear of talking about yourself in the third person – as the author of this blog discovered – that way madness lies.
The reader is you. So that is what you’re called. In modern English you can be either plural (as you all know) or singular (I’ll explain it to you after class). So it’s hard to go wrong, just as long as you avoid the dreaded third person again: folly, as the readers of this blog know.
The people I tell you about are they: clients of mine, your web site users – unless I am talking about just one, in which case he, she or it is required.
The crucial point is that you are consistent within an article, and establish a pattern for your web site at large. Why? Because switching between singular and plural looks amateur, and shifting person around confuses your readers.
4. Sloppy punctuation
A simple guideline for exclamation marks is that they should only be used in recorded speech and even then, sparingly.
The product manager shouted “eat my shorts!”
As for quotation marks, the clue is in the name. They should only be used to enclose a direct quotation, proven by supplying the reference. If you can’t reference it, don’t quote it.
An even simpler guideline for semicolons is don’t use them – unless you can explain their correct usage to somebody else without bluffing. The same goes for ellipses (…), em dashes (—) and, well, every other punctuation mark. If you don’t understand it don’t use it. Learn to create effects with the words you choose, not with little pictures.
5. Bad spelling
There is simply no excuse for bad spelling and typos. Not when you have spellcheck, the ability to proofread your own writing, this guide to apostrophes, and colleagues or friends to check it over for you.