Improve Your Writing & Speaking – Be Aware of These 7 Errors

Patricia Fripp, Executive Speech Coach & Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker at Coaching Camp
Patricia Fripp, Executive Speech Coach & Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker with a “Get Coached to Speak” Camp Coachee, Dave Chase

Whether you own a business, report to a boss, or are searching for a job, it is important to sound intelligent in all your business communications. Never underestimate the power of your words. I share this article from Ragan Communications by Shanna Mallon describing seven errors you should avoid in your writing; many of these are errors you should also avoid in your presentations. As Shanna points out “By becoming alert to typical mistakes, you become less likely to make them.”

7 Errors Even Good Writers Miss

When your job entails putting words together at a breakneck pace, the odds are good that your devious fingers will try to put one over on your brilliant mind. Caveat scriptor!

Listen, even good writers make mistakes, from obvious repeats to subtle misspellings. It means we’re human.

If you’re like most writers, you’re probably making common blunders on a regular basis. Don’t lose heart. Awareness is half the battle: By becoming alert to typical mistakes, you become less likely to make them.

Before you publish your next blog post or submit another magazine article, do yourself a favor and check it against this list. Below are seven mistakes that even good writers miss:

1. Accidental repeats. You know that feeling of telling a friend a story and then realizing you’ve already shared it? It happens in writing, too. When you’re not paying close attention, you might repeat a phrase, a story, or a point without realizing it. One good way to catch these accidental repeats is by reading your content aloud; often your ears catch mistakes that your eyes don’t.

2. Empty adverbs. Let’s be honest. When you add “really” to a verb, what are you adding? Is calling something “very” cold better than calling it frosty, frigid, or icy? The truth is, many common adverbs are empty: They add little or nothing to the meaning of a sentence and only clutter your copy. Cut them out.

3. Dangling modifiers. Dangling modifiers are a classic symptom of writing exactly as we speak. Although casual, conversational language may contain dangling modifiers, written language should not; they muddy your message. A modifying phrase should immediately precede the thing it modifies. So, instead of writing, “Setting an editorial calendar, the blog mapped months of topics,” write, “Setting an editorial calendar, the writer mapped months of topics on her blog.” The blog is not setting the calendar; the writer is setting the calendar.

4. Which vs. that. The words “which” and “that” are not interchangeable. Both begin clauses, but “which” clauses are unnecessary to the meaning of a sentence (and thus set off by commas) and “that” clauses are essential.

5. Overly complex words. Using overly complex words in place of simple ones is a perfect way to alienate your readers. Better to be clear and get your message across than to be fancy and lose your audience. When reading over your content, ask yourself whether the meaning is obvious. If not, rewrite.

6. Common misspellings. Most writers understand the difference between “your” and “you’re,” but it’s all too easy to accidentally type one when you mean the other, especially if your spell-check program doesn’t pick up the error. Be on guard for common misspellings such as these:

  • They’re/Their/There
  • Lose/Loose
  • It’s/Its
  • Effect/Affect
  • Weather/Whether
  • Then/Than

7. Your personal “tells.” A writing “tell” is like a poker “tell”: It’s something you regularly do—without meaning to—that gives you away. In poker, it might be the way you tap your fingers when you have a good hand; in writing, it might be the way you always use words like “just” or something else. Once you identify some of your overused words or other crutches, you need to ruthlessly cut them out. Using them once in a while is fine, but using them all the time dulls your writing.

Thank you Shanna!

Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development, and other online marketing services such as website content writing services. Follow Straight North on Twitter and Facebook.

Ragan Communications is a great source of information for communicators. Their conferences include the Ragan Speechwriters Conference which I have been honored to keynote.

Patricia Fripp’s executive speech coaching clients include corporate leaders, celebrity speakers, well-known sports and media personalities, and sales teams. You can learn many of the public speaking secrets she teaches her executive speech coaching clients at Fripp events or through Fripp learning materials.

For information on upcoming public speaking and presentation skills events that are open to the public visit:

Improve your presentation skills and perfect your business presentations with Fripp CDs, DVDs and digital downloads:

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker, Patricia Fripp is hired by individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.