The experience collected from hours upon hours of proofreading has lead me to develop a database of potential mistakes to look out for in any projects I undertake. I thought it might be useful to put together a small list of some of the recurring errors my colleagues and I come across.
I don't know what the general public has against commas, but these little guys are either everywhere, nowhere, or lost. Not only does this greatly affect the flow of writing, it can, in some cases, completely change a statement's meaning.
Disabled elderly pregnant children? Does the imagery conjured by the above picture frighten anyone other than me?
This comic image perfectly illustrates the power of commas. Use them wisely. A very easy way to discern whether a comma should be placed is to read the sentence to yourself. Did you pause? If so, then you most likely need one.
Let's eat grandpa!
Let's eat, grandpa!
Again, the only difference between the two sentences is the comma placement, and yet, it changes the meaning drastically.
What I also tend to find when proofreading, is that commas are often unnecessarily placed. For example,
I must go to the store, because I have run out of milk.
This statement has two clauses; an independent clause and a dependent one. When this is the case, there is absolutely no need for a comma.
The problem with homophones is that they sound exactly the same, despite differing greatly in meaning. This effectively makes them the ninjas of errors. They go completely undetected by spellcheckers (hence the importance of proofreading) and often by those proofreading their own work because the spelling isn't wrong, rather the word has been used incorrectly. The most common homophone mix-ups include;
There are more out there, but I come across these very regularly. Often, the authors understand when to use which homophone, but mix them up when distracted by their writing.
I will only mention two terms here. If I was given 10p for every time I had to correct these, I'd be writing this post from the Maldives.
There is no 'a' in the word ‘definitely’. No 'a'. It's all about the 'I'.
Yes, 'should've' sounds like 'should of'. However, 'should of' has no meaning and is grammatically incorrect. The correct way of spelling it is 'should have'.
Other similar examples of this include would have/of, could have/of and must have/of.
Maya Angelou, the author of the book 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', has written 7 biographies. 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' deals with her teenage years and her struggles with racism and trauma. 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' is beautifully written and highly symbolic.
I know that some struggle with reaching their minimum word count, but repeating the title of a work which is going to be discussed at length only frustrates the reader. Instead, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' can be easily replaced by 'this work' or, if feeling a little more adventurous, you can always connect two sentences together like so;
'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' deals with her teenage years and her struggles with racism and trauma; it is beautifully written and highly symbolic.
The issue of repetition does not only apply to book titles of course. In fact, more often than not, repetition occurs with small words and connectives such as of, for, and, with, etc. This can result in overly long and complicated sentences where the purpose of the statement is forgotten by the time the reader reaches the end. This brings me on to the next common mistake;
Overly long and complicated sentences
It can be difficult to find the balanced between well-written and sophisticated prose and reader-friendly writing. However, there are some definite no-nos.
>Run on sentences
People sometimes get a little too enthusiastic and insert commas everywhere without realising that, at some point, the reader will need to take a breath. This can happen when trying to get numerous points across in one go. My advice? Pace yourself. Not only will your reader appreciate it, but the points you are making will be much easier to digest.
>Lack of punctuation
Just as some overdo it with commas, others prefer to discard punctuation altogether. Full stops, commas, colons and the like are there to organise sentences and guide the reader through a hassle free and easy reading experience. Remove punctuation and all they will get is a headache.
>Unnecessary use of 'fancy' terminology
When writing a paper on Molecular biology, those unfamiliar with the topic will naturally find it difficult to understand. This, however, should not be true of a piece whose target audience is the average man. Not only does it require more effort for the reader (thus discouraging them from reading), it can also be dangerous. If a 'fancy' term (one not commonly used) such as polyglot is misused by an author, their effort to bump up their writing is wasted. Instead, their work loses credibility. My tip - Don't use overly complicated terms when a simple one will do.
This wraps up part 1 of 'Common mistakes proofreaders come across'. Do leave a comment letting us know your thoughts on the matter! It is always a pleasure to engage with readers.