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The 5 typos seriously weakening your writing

When editing, I often come across the same simple errors over and over. Usually, it's because of typos or other common mistakes. It's not your fault for making little errors. We all do it! Unfortunately, your audience will notice, and may even decide to forget about you and instead choose one of your competitors, just because they appear more professional. We don't want that.

So, here's five typos and common mistakes you can easily fix by yourself. Let's get proof-reading!


1. Apostrophes:

There are a few reasons we use apostrophes. Maybe we're using them for a contraction, maybe to show possession, or maybe for a direct quote. The most common mistake I see with apostrophes is their use in plurals. The answer is simple - don't use apostrophes for plurals! Here are some examples to help:

  • Wrong: "I enjoy reading blog post's"

  • Right: "I enjoy reading blog posts" (plural)

  • Wrong: "thats very interesting"

  • Right: "that's very interesting" (contraction)

  • Wrong: "look at Poppys website"

  • Right: "look at Poppy's website" (possessive)

But there's usually exceptions to rules. It's and its are opposite, it's being the contraction, and its being possessive!

Monash University's guide is a good place to start if you're still unsure.

2. Homonyms:

These are a prominent issue in writing - words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings. People generally don't notice correct spelling, but poor spelling will quickly turn away potential customers. When proof-reading, don't forget to check these commonly misused homonyms:

  • Too, Two and To: "Two dogs are going to the park, too"

  • They're, Their and There: "They're seeing their parents over there"

  • Your and You're: "You're going to ruin your dinner"

A similar common spelling mistake I have to mention is 'then' and 'than'. Remember that 'then' refers to tense, and 'than' is used for comparisons.

In Australia, I've found one of the most popular dictionaries across publications is Macquarie. Refer to their site if you want to learn more about different spellings and definitions!

3. British vs American

In Australia, we get most of our spelling rules from British English, but with so much American media, many people get confused. There are quite a few differences between American and British English, so you need to always make sure you're writing correctly for your audience. If an Australian company uses American spelling, it won't seem very Aussie!

In American English:

  • '-ise' becomes '-ize' (i.e. realise vs realize)

  • '-our' becomes '-or' (i.e. favour vs favor)

  • '-re' becomes '-er' (i.e. centimetre vs centimeter)

For example

  • British: "Have you analysed the colours for the centre?"

  • American: "Have you analyzed the colors for the center?"

For more Americanisms, see this blog post by Cambridge University.

4. Tense

This is one a lot of people get wrong - particularly in creative writing - but it's not hard to fix! Making sure each sentence is the right tense, and keeping it consistent, is really important. Your readers will find it much easier to understand what you're saying. Decide if your message is past, present or future, and stick to it!

For example:

  • Wrong: "I give All Write a 5 star review yesterday"

  • Right: "I gave All Write a 5 star review yesterday"

  • Wrong: "Our cafe offers food that tasted good"

  • Right: "Our cafe offers food that tastes good"

For more on tense, I like this guide by Grammarly.

5. Colons vs Semi-Colons

If you struggle with these two, don't worry! Most people do, and it even took me a while to grasp the correct use. I find that Word documents always attempt to 'correct' you by suggesting you add colons/semi-colons into long sentences, but do you actually know what they're doing?

Although both are generally used to separate a sentence, colons come before a list or explanation, and semicolons are used to connect two clauses. The most common mistake I see is mixing up colons and semicolons in a list.

  • Wrong: "We need several colours; purple: blue: red: yellow and pink."

  • Right: "We need several colours: purple, blue, red, yellow and pink."

You might also choose to use semicolons in a list, for clarification, when commas aren't enough.

  • "We need several colours for the house: walls, pink; floors, brown; furniture, green; and windows, purple."

For the use of separating clauses, my advice is to avoid semi-colons if they aren't absolutely necessary. Not only are they difficult for many people to use correctly, they impact the readability of text. You want your sentences active and engaging, and semi-colons can be jarring to the reader. But, if you can use them well, don't let me stop you!

If you want to learn more, the Australian Writers' Centre has a great Q&A.


Keep an eye on my blog for more writing tips, and if you need further help with proof-reading, see my editing page!


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