5 Writing Errors that Cost You Money

Okay, I get it. Nobody knows what a comma splice is and nobody cares.

It seems to me that statement must be true because I see comma splices everywhere I look these days. So I tell myself, “Get over it, Fern. Nobody ever lost a client over a comma splice.” And even if comma splices give me heartburn, nobody else seems to know or care about them so I’d better learn to live with them.

But I teach Strategic Business Writing to sales people who want to improve their closing percentages. I give them a magic formula and whether they write an e-mail or a major proposal, that formula makes a serious difference in the responses they receive.  Still, I want to give them more.  I want them to convey credibility, to avoid the kind of errors that make them look dumb–because what people put on paper or screen has a lot to do with sales results.

Now, I’m not going to suggest you avoid all grammatical errors because I don’t believe you can. Indeed, the grammar check on your computer can’t do it either. It often makes terrible suggestions where grammar is concerned. What’s more, perfect grammar rarely makes great reading because it’s too stilted and unnatural. Yes, bad grammar makes a bad impression, but pretty good grammar is really good enough for the majority of readers.

Still, I am going to suggest you correct the mistakes that jump off the page and make you look dumb–because looking dumb costs you money.

Here are the top 5 errors to avoid.

1. Spelling mistakes

While your grammar check is unreliable, your spell-check is good. Use it every time. A spelling mistake is unforgivable and tells your reader you care little about detail and less about following through. That’s not good.

2. Comma Bloopers

When I ask workshop participants if they know where to use commas, the most common response I hear is: wherever you’d take a breath. Nonsense! I can’t imagine who came up with that urban fantasy, but it simply isn’t true. Following that rule makes it look like you haven’t got a clue.

If you don’t know “the rules” about how to use commas correctly, don’t use them at all. These days, it’s preferable to omit a comma rather than put one in the wrong place–and yes, there are real rules for comma use. Check them out online at Garbl’s Style Manual or simply stop using commas.

3. Confusing i.e. and e.g.

Both of those short forms come from Latin and they are not interchangeable. They do not mean the same thing.

The first one is the short form of id est–which means:that is.  When you write i.e. you are saying: this thing only.  So, for example, if I said, “I teach a variety of workshops, i.e. writing.” I’ve made an obvious mistake. I should have used e.g. –the short form of exempli gratia–which means: for example.

4. Incorrect use of apostrophes

An apostrophe is used to indicate ownership or to show where a letter is missing. That said, “it’s” and “its” may be confusing, but using them correctly separates the smart from the not so smart. The same might be said of “you’re” and “your”. So, let’s be sure you know when to use which.

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is”.  The apostrophe indicates an “i” is missing. Use “it’s” when you mean: it is. Use “its” when you mean something belongs to it.  An example of both might be: it’s a good day for a dog and its owner.

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”. The apostrophe indicates an “a” is missing. Use “you’re” when you mean: you are. “Your” means belonging to you. An example of both might be: you’re smart if you take your umbrella today.

5. Between You and I

“Between you and I” is a major grammatical error and people who care about grammar know that it is. Yes, you hear it often–even from TV anchors who should know better–but that doesn’t mean it’s right. To be correct, a person would say, “between you and me”.

As children, “me” is commonly misused and provokes frequent corrections from adults. When a child says, “Johnny and me are playing,” someone usually says something like: that’s Johhny and I.  As a result, some people get fixated on the “Johnny and I” construction thinking it’s correct every time. It is not.

“I” is the subject. Use “I” when it’s at the beginning of the sentence and a verb follows as in, “Johnny and I are playing.”  On the other hand, “me” is the object. Use “me” when a verb comes before the pronoun–i.e. when the pronoun is at the end of the sentence as in, “Give the toys to Johnny and me”.

You’ll know if you’re right by simply removing the other person from the sentence. You’d never say: give the toys to I. You would always say: give the toys to me. Adding “Johnny and” does not change the form of the pronoun.

And please, don’t choose “myself” instead of “me” just because you think it sounds fancier. In other words, don’t say, “send it to myself” when “send it to me” is preferable.

By the way, a comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses. Without getting into the finer points of grammar, I’ll simplify. A comma splice is the use of a comma instead of a period at the end of a complete sentence. Here’s an example: Margaret had a great time at the party, she danced all night. 

To be correct, I should have written: Margaret had a great time at the party.  She danced all night. 

Or I might have written: Margaret had a great time at the party; she danced all night. 

But inserting a comma where I did is a mistake.  That mistake is called a comma splice. So now you know about comma splices lucky reader, and you can get heartburn too.

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