As I write this, I will be limiting myself to the ten most common writing mistakes and then I will show you what they should look like.
- The most popular mistake these days seems to be the difference between a possessive noun and a plural one. A noun that possesses something needs a possessive apostrophe. For example, “Cat’s meow” needs that possessive apostrophe, versus “The cats meow all hours of the day and night.” In the first example, you have one cat who possesses a meow (if you have more than one cat, it would read “cats’ meows”). In the second example, you have multiple cats who are using the verb “meow” to really annoy you and keep you awake at night.
- The next mistake is using a possessive apostrophe with the word “it.” This word does not need an apostrophe in its possessive form. If you write “it’s,” then you have written “it is.” An example of this is “in its best interest” versus “it’s (it is) in the best interest of the students.” If you add the apostrophe with the first sentence, then you have written “in it is best interest,” which is not what you mean at all.
- A very popular boo-boo is not using commas with introductory phrases. It adds clarity, if you have a comma. For example, this sentence has an introductory phrase with a comma. Some students simply choose to never use any punctuation at any time. Augh!!!!! They feel that they can get away with the occasional period, if that.
- The next is a related mistake: The use of commas between the subject and the verb and wherever else the student would like to plop them. An example, is because, whenever the student thinks, one would look good then, he or she, puts one into the sentence. Double aughh!!!!!
- An all-time favorite is using semi-colons where commas belong. These periodically show up after an introductory phrase or in a list of things. For example; a student would use them after a person; place; thing; or idea. (Please note that none of these semi-colons is correct; semi-colons connect two independent phrases (phrases that could stand alone as a sentence on their own but which you have chosen to connect.)
- Students also love to stick the year of publication in a paragraph multiple times. The rule of thumb is as follows: only use the year of publication ONCE in a paragraph, unless you have multiple articles by the same authors that are mentioned in the same paragraph and were written in different years. If the author has a particularly good year with numerous articles, then you would write 2020a, 2020b, and the like, after the author’s name.
- Students like to shortchange the second author. For example, one of my textbooks was written by Beebe and Masterson. Students love to cite Beebe but not Masterson. Cite both! Do not write et al. if there are only two authors.
- The use of et al. seems to be very confusing. (Note that I have removed the quotation marks around these words, to avoid confusion.) It is not eat all, et. al, or etal. These terms are used to indicate that there are multiple authors; I will use the citation properly at the end of this sentence (Smith et al., 2020, p. 123). Please note the punctuation herein.
- Do not write huge sentences. Some students just go on and on and, the next thing you know, they have a sentence that is five lines long. If you have to come up for air as you read a sentence, it is way too long. He or she who writes the longest sentence does not win. You simply wear out your reader.
- Students do not use Oxford commas. I love my parents, Daisy Duck and Donald Duck. I did not use an Oxford commas there, so it appears that my parents are Daisy and Donald (they aren’t). Using a comma after the second-to-the-last item in a list of things adds clarity. I love my parents, Daisy Duck, and Donald Duck. Now it is obvious that I love three separate individuals.
- Best, Dr. Sheri