Simple, clear help for your writing problems

You can get a lot of writing problems under control simply by reading your own articles before you commit them to the web.

That sentence is an article in itself, but I’m expanding on it to help drive home the point. Careful, conscientious writers make mistakes. Sometimes, the very habits that make your writing good introduce errors that are easy to overlook. When you read your own article, these types of errors often jump out. You might even chuckle, realizing exactly how the errors got into your prose in the first place.

Some Writing Problems You’ll Catch While Reading

Here are a few of the writing problems you’re likely to spot when you read your own articles:

Writing problems with leftover words

If you’re conscientious, you edit your work before you expose the public to it. Often while editing, you change the order of words in a sentence, or you move phrases and sentences around in your prose. Occasionally, you leave words behind. When you read your article, those spurious words stand out.

example: This method produces bug-free produce and it also results in better tasting vegetables as well.

Writing problems with stuck-together words

When you cut and paste a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph of your article, it’s easy to leave behind a space character. This can accidentally stick two words together. You’ll notice such an accident when you read your article.

example: I found waterpooled on leaves of three rhubarb plants.

Writing problems with when things happen

Especially when you’re working quickly, it’s easy to flip from talking about what’s happening now to talking about what already happened. These awkward moments tend to arise most when you’re writing narratives. You’ll spot them when you read your article.

example: Bill ran to the mailbox and dropped in the letter. Then he looks over his shoulder, and is astonished by what he sees.

Writing problems with quantities

While writing a sentence, it’s common to question your word choices and make changes till the words sound right to your ears. Some awkward sentences arise when you start talking about groups of people or things, but end up talking about only one person or thing. These can be harder to spot than other writing problems, but reading your article gives you your best chance of catching them. (If you don’t see a problem with the sentence in this example—or with the preceding example—please subscribe to my RSS feed or visit often; I’ll explain these common writing problems in an upcoming post.)

example: There was a time when professional writers mailed their manuscript to an editor.

Writing problems with flow

As you write, ideas pop into your mind. Sometimes they’re compelling enough that you incorporate them into your article. Other times you realize your article will be clearer if you move a topic ahead of another one you’ve already covered. When you read your article, you’ll notice misplaced sentences, paragraphs, sections, and subheads.

Writing problems with words that sound alike

When you’re racing to finish a project, capturing the words may take priority over spelling them correctly. Unfortunately, you appear ignorant when you use so instead of sew or way instead of weigh. Your spell-checking software won’t notice these errors, but you will when you read your article.

Writing problems with unlikely words

This happens to all of us: we write a sentence using the word an, but later change the sentence so that an is inappropriate. Consider: This is an awesome performance. might become This is an sublime performance. Being rushed is another cause of unlikely words arising: we accidentally write longer—or shorter—words than we intend to. For example, you’re thinking the word an but your fingers tickle out the word and, or while typing them your fingers omit the m and create the. Again, spell-checkers don’t see these as problems, but the errors are obvious when you read your article.

Read your Articles Before you Post

The writing problems I’ve highlighted are common and forgivable… as long as they don’t appear in your published articles. Every writer makes at least some of these mistakes with nearly every article they write. What distinguishes good writers is that they read their articles, spot the errors, and fix them.

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