Most Common Writing Mistakes: 10 Stylistic Mistakes

In writing, little mistakes are often big mistakes. Make sure you’re not letting any of these potentially tragic gaffes sabotage your readers’ trust in your competency.

1. Don’t Capitalize Articles Such as “the” and “and”

Articles (such “the,” “an,” and “a”) should not be capitalized in a title, except at the beginning.

This: Summer of the Gorgola Monster, One Heck of a Scary Beast

Not This: Summer of The Gorgola Monster, One Heck of A Scary Beast

2. Don’t Put Double Spaces Between Sentences

No need to put two spaces between sentences. This “rule” is a holdover from the days of the typewriter. Modern word processors automatically adjust the spacing between words, so it’s no longer correct to include the extra space.

This: The Gorgola Monster rose from the deep. He shook himself dry and roared.

Not This: The Gorgola Monster rose from the deep.  He shook himself dry and roared.

3. Don’t Use More (or Less) Than Three Periods for an Ellipsis

An ellipsis is always three periods.      

This: “I don’t know” she trailed off.      

Not this: “I don’t know…….” she trailed off.

4. Don’t Use “Less” When You Mean “Fewer”

Use “fewer” to indicate things that can be counted and “less” to indicate things that cannot be counted.      

This: I realized we had fewer flowers and less flour than before the Gorgola’s attack.      

Not this: I realized we had less flowers and fewer flour than before the Gorgola’s attack.

5. Don’t Forget the Comma When Joining Independent Clauses

Use a comma to separate independent clauses.      

This: The Gorgola roared and charged, and I screamed like a baby and ran like a duck.      

Not this: The Gorgola roared and charged and I screamed like a baby and ran like a duck.

6. Don’t Hyphenate “-Ly” Adverbs

It is incorrect to connect a pair of modifiers with a hyphen when the first modifier is an adverb ending in “ly.”

This: The perfectly toned game warden refused to shoot the Gorgola, even when it bit my arm.      

Not this: The perfectly-toned game warden refused to shoot the Gorgola, even when it bit my arm.

7. Don’t Forget the Proper Placement for Ending Punctuation Within Quotation Marks

Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks; colons and semi-colons go outside.      

This: The warden said the Gorgola was “endangered”; I said I was obviously the only one in “danger.”      

Not this: The warden said the Gorgola was “endangered;” I said I was obviously the only one in “danger”.

8. Don’t Use Commas for Lists With Multiple Adjectives or Descriptive Phrases

Use a semi-colon to divide items in a list when one or more of those items contains a comma.      

This: I made an inventory: one bite mark; two yellow, size small sneakers; three crushed flowers.      

Not this: I made an inventory: one bite mark, two yellow, size small sneakers, three crushed flowers.

9. Don’t Precede an Action Beat With a Comma

Unless the action beat interrupts a dialogue sentence or unless you’re following the dialogue with a speaker tag (he said/she said), don’t end dialogue with a comma.      

This: “You’re useless.” I stomped away from the warden.      

Not this: “You’re useless,” I stomped away from the warden.

10. Don’t Capitalize a Person’s Title Unless Using It in Place of a Name

Titles (such as “mom” or “dad”) should only be capitalized when used as a direct replacement for a name.      

This: I called my dad and asked to talk to Mom about the best way to deter a Gorgola from a campsite.      

Not this: I called my Dad and asked to talk to mom about the best way to deter a Gorgola from a campsite.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What stylistic mistakes particularly bother you? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Regarding double spaces between sentences, I recently had an on-line discussion where some people said one should write in the format that the finished document needs to be in. This is to say one’s computer screen should look like the submission guidelines. They said it was wrong to use Courier font as one writes, or to put two spaces between sentences as one writes, or even to double space between lines as one writes. I disagreed.

    I believe one should write using any method that helps one write effectively. I use double spaces between sentences when I’m writing because it helps me see the sentences, which helps me edit, which reduces my error rate. I would use five spaces between sentences if it helped me write better.

    I believe writing and submitting are two different steps in the process. One does not dictate the other’s format. My method is to write in a format that maximizes my productivity and the quality of my work. At submission time, however, I change the formatting of the finished manuscript to match the guidelines for each market. It’s easy to do when one know how to use one’s tools.

    It’s strange, though, that it seems these same people who are so zealous about what is the proper way for a writer to write on a computer don’t have the same complaints when the writer writes by hand. If you write by hand, you can write anyway you want. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone said there are rules about what kind of pen and paper a writer must use.

    I write using this format because it helps me edit.
    • 12-point Courier
    • Double-spaced
    • One-inch margins
    • 25 lines per page
    • Two spaces after sentences
    • Two hyphens (‐‐) for em dash
    • Underscore for italics

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree with you. Write however optimizes your creativity. You can reformat for submission when the time comes.

  2. Felicia R Johnson says

    I was confused about where punctuation goes with quotation marks. Your post clarified things for me. But what about other punctuation marks like question marks and exclamation points? Same as commas and periods?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, same as commas and periods.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Unless (I should add) what is within quotes is part of a larger question or exclamation.

      For example: Did she really say “oui, oui”?
      Or: I can’t believe you said “oui, oui”!

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