Common Writing Mistakes
in English


Common Writing MistakesThe most common writing mistakes in English can be split into three categories:

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  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary (including spelling)
  • Register (the level and style of writing, i.e. formal, informal, or neutral)
These can all be minimized with a simple checklist and a bit of care and attention.

Grammar

Of course some students make grammar mistakes because they don't know every grammar rule and its exceptions.

But more students make grammar mistakes with things they do know. So here is a simple checklist of things to do when you are writing:
  • Say it simply.
    If you aren't sure if your grammar is correct, try to find another way to write something.

  • Check your tenses.
    English has a lot of tenses. Are you using the most suitable one?

  • Check the word order.

  • Check any verb agreements.
    For example: "he has" not "he have."
    This is a basic, but common mistake even for high level students.
Think about these while you are writing, and when you have finished, go back and reread your work, checking all of these items.

ALWAYS check your work after you finish writing, and if you are taking an exam, make sure you leave enough time to do this at the end.

Vocabulary

This is harder to check, as it is common to misuse words, especially if you don't have a very wide vocabulary.

If you find spelling difficult, develop some strategies to help you. Check the words you often get wrong. (For more details read How to Improve Your Spelling – a Guide for Students.)

It is a good idea to find lists of easily confused words and review them.

For example, many students confuse "affect" and "effect," but there are many other pairs of words it would be useful to learn.

Ask yourself if you have used the best word for what you want to say, or is another one more suitable?

For example, do you want to say "He came in quietly" or "He came in silently"?

Check collocations.

A collocation is a combination of words that is used together frequently. It's actually a common phrase.

For example:
"Commit a crime" is a typical combination of words in English. You could say "make a crime," and it wouldn't be incorrect, but many people tend to use these words together. So "commit a crime" is a collocation.

Here is another example: we say "heavy traffic" not "strong traffic," and so forth.

So do the words you have used go together? 

Have you used the correct prepositions? This is another common mistake, and if you are writing quickly then it is easy to make mistakes here.

Register

Register means the level and style of writing, i.e. formal, informal, or neutral.

Some kinds of writing are always written in formal English. These can include (but are not limited to):
  • Business letters
  • Letters of complaint
  • Some letters of enquiry
  • Some kinds of essay
  • Reports
Some writing is usually informal. This can include:
  • Personal e-mails
  • Notes
  • Letters to friends and family
Kinds of writing usually written in a neutral register include:
  • Some essays
  • Reviews
  • Articles
  • Some letters
The register of the piece you are writing will determine your vocabulary, the structure, and some grammar.

For example formal writing often doesn't use contractions (don't, doesn't, hasn't, weren't, etc.), and uses the passive voice much more than informal writing.

This is quite a difficult aspect of writing to get right, but there are many books available, as well as online guides which can help you.

Check, and then check again

The most important thing to do when you are writing is to check your work.

Most common writing mistakes in English are simple mistakes that you can find and correct with little attention.

Common writing mistakes – a neat tip

Many of you may know that Microsoft Word can check your spelling, and even grammar. But did you know it can also check your style?

It can check and offer correction for style errors such as:

  • Words or phrases identified as clichés in the dictionary

  • Sentences that contain colloquial words and phrases, including "real," "awfully," and "plenty" used as adverbs

  • Use of contractions (for example, "We won't leave 'til tomorrow" instead of "We will not leave until tomorrow.")

  • Misused words

  • Unclear phrasing

  • And much more!

You can read all about how to use it here:
Select grammar and writing style options

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