From The Rock

Everyday editing and writing reminders

By | February 26, 2020

While each day in the life of PR professionals varies, one thing always remains constant amid the flux of meetings, calls and tasks – writing! Writing is the foundation of our career, and a strong base is required for steady growth. To help you stay on track,  here’s a list of 10 common writing goofs and mishaps.

  • Passive voice

Using passive voice is an extremely common mistake. While we often speak passively in conversation, passive voice could be the reason reporters aren’t responding to your pitches. To correct this, eReleases recommends using active voice in news releases to encourage engagement. So, what are passive voice and active voice?

Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence receives the action rather than performing it. To demonstrate the difference, here’s a sentence written in both passive and active voice:

Passive: “The letter was mailed on Tuesday.”

The verb here is “was mailed,” which isn’t an action verb. While adequately conveying what happened, this sentence falls flat and seems dull.

Active: “Jane mailed the letter on Tuesday.”

In this version of the sentence, the action is much clearer and gives the subject responsibility for the action. This small change in sentence structure can easily amplify your writing.

  • Less is more

I can be long-winded at times, especially when telling a story in conversation. For that reason, I often use extra words that aren’t necessary when writing. Always remember that less is more – if something can be articulated in fewer words, go for it! A lengthy explanation isn’t needed when it can be conveyed concisely.

Also, bear in mind that websites are often reviewed for readability, which factors in brevity, and low scores can affect SEO rankings. The shorter and more concise, the better!

  • Who vs. that

Who vs. that – seems simple, right? Funny enough, this is a common mistake (and something I’m guilty of). To put it simply:

Who – refers to a person or an animal with a name.

That – refers to something without a name.

For example, “The man that was sitting there left his jacket in the seat,” is incorrect. However, “The man who was sitting there left his jacket in the seat,” is correct.

  • Toward vs. towards

For some reason, I unintentionally write in British English, e.g. double letters or additional u’s, so this is an additional self reminder. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason for this rule besides preference – in American English, you say “toward,” and in British English, you say “towards.”

  • Spell check is your friend

When writing, it’s important to review your work to ensure sentences are properly arranged, grammar is correct and the entire piece flows together. And having a second set of trained eyes to review your work is equally as important. But there are some days when you need a little more help than others to ensure your spelling is on point. One of my favorite discoveries since beginning my current role at Obsidian has been Grammarly. It’s a browser add-on that reviews your sentences for you. It doesn’t work on certain sites and will fuss at you over the Oxford comma, but it’s a great tool for those who spend any amount of time writing.

  • I.e. vs. e.g.

I.e and e.g are Latin expressions. E.g. stands for “exempli gratia,” meaning “for example,” and is used to list one or more examples. I.e. stands for “id est,” meaning “in other words,” and is used to clarify or provide more concise information. These two are easy to confuse because they’re both abbreviations but are great additions to your writing. Here are a few examples:

I.e. – I spent the evening doing my favorite thing, i.e. lounging in my room while discovering new music.

E.g. – Samantha nominated her client for various awards, e.g. Best Places to Work and Best Company Culture.

  • Dangling modifiers

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that does not clearly relate to the following noun. Here’s an example from Purdue OWL:

After arriving late for class, a written excuse was needed.

To correct this sentence, it needs to be decided who arrived late. The correct version would read:

After arriving late for class, Luke needed a written excuse.

  • “They” vs. “it”

This is another mistake I’m often guilty of. When referring to a brand, business or organization, use the word “it” instead of “they.” For me, I view an organization as a collective group; however, since it’s genderless, “it” is the correct pronoun.

  • “Peak” vs. “pique” vs. “peek”

To put it simply, Merriam-Webster defines the words as follows:

Peak – to reach a maximum (as of capacity, value or activity)

Pique – to excite or arouse especially by a provocation, challenge or rebuff

Peek – to take a brief look

I see this mistake most often with sentences like, “She piqued my interest,” or “He peaked in college.”

  • “There” vs. “their” vs. “they’re”

Another common writing mistake is the misuse of these three words.

There – in, or at, that place. 

Ex. Paula went there to grab a cup of coffee.

Their – belonging to or associated with the people or things previously mentioned or easily identified. 

Ex. We went over to their house to watch the game.

They’re – they are. 

Ex. They’re going to the zoo this weekend.

What are a few of your writing pet peeves?