Biggest Writing Mistakes for Books and Blogs

Updated on May 22, 2018
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

Source

From reading scores of manuscripts and thousands (upon thousands!) of blog posts, I frequently encounter these big writing mistakes. Are you guilty of making them?

Same Word, Same Word, Same Word...

Hey, I even find myself falling into this trap! We all have some writing and verbal ticks and quirks that show up in our written and spoken language. One of those quirks is using the same word or phrase over and over and over again.

For me, it’s “so.” But in authors’ manuscripts, one of the most common repeated words I find is “however.” I understand what’s happening in the writer’s or author’s brain with this one. They’re trying to show a shift or contrast in the flow of ideas. There are other ways to do it... however. For example, “in contrast,” “conversely,” “another way to look at it,” and many more.

How to Fix it

Listen to yourself. Record yourself reading a long passage of your work out loud, say a chapter or a long blog post. What the eye can’t detect, the ear often can.

Search and replace. Once you know what some of your oft repeated words are, then do a search for those words in your entire document. You might be shocked at how many times they’re used! Then replace the old over-repeated words with an alternative that means the same thing. In some cases, you might find that rewriting the whole sentence or section is needed.

Get an editor or proofreader and/or get better at self editing. No explanation needed about this one. An outside third party can pick up on these quirks quickly. But if you don’t have the budget OR the investment in editing and proofreading is somewhat of an overkill (for example, for a short blog post), then get better at self editing. That could include using online proofreading tools, putting the work away for a while, or printing the manuscript out on paper to get a different visual perspective of the writing.

Who?

Referring to minor celebrities or pop culture references will date a book, blog or any content in a hurry! This bad habit could make a book or blog irrelevant even a few months from now, leaving audiences scratching their heads about the meaning. Granted, if the book or blog is about pop culture and news, then this is unavoidable. But do consider the evergreen potential of your work.

True, there may be references to key figures in history whose stories have stood the test of time (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln or Buddha, for example). But be aware, too, that even notable figures may not have the same relevance, reverence, or identification in the future.

Similarly, subjects identifiable in one country, culture or community might not be known in another. You may have to do some explaining.

How to Fix It

Is this historically significant? Before automatically including a reference to a famous person, place, event, etc., evaluate whether it has been widely known for a long period of time. A singer from last year’s Top 10 hit chart may be a one-hit wonder and will soon be lost to history.

Ask. Want to know if the pop culture, historical or other reference resonates with your audience? Ask ‘em! Send a list of the people, places, or events you plan to reference in your work to some folks that fit your ideal reader profile. You could use an online survey service, social media, or email.

JAB (Jargon, Acronyms and Buzzwords)

I’m surprised I still have to mention this, but I run across some writers’ manuscripts and blog posts that presume everyone is aware of what certain terms mean. I feel kind of annoyed or embarrassed when I need to look up the meaning of a jargon term or acronym that the author presumes readers like me know.

Buzzwords have the dual problem of potentially being terms that have low identification, as well as referencing terms that have become passé. Feeling “groovy” anyone?

How to Fix It

Analyze your audience. If your audience is "in the know" about your topic—as well as the jargon, acronyms and buzzwords—then explaining these terms might be overkill.

Explain yourself. Even though I sometimes feel I’m oversimplifying things, I often put explanatory notes for jargon, acronyms or buzzwords in parentheses to avoid any confusion if I feel that there may be many readers who are less familiar with the topic.

For example, I’ve referenced the FTC in multiple posts that include discussions about marketing disclosures. But I realize that this acronym for the Federal Trade Commission in the United States might not be known in other countries. So I’ll put the spelled out name in parentheses in it’s first instance in the work, and may also note that it is an agency of the United States government.

Run-On and Monkey Mind Paragraphs

I would say that one of the more common issues I encounter and address when editing is that of run-on paragraphs. I’ve never quite figured out why this happens so often. Do authors feel that they need to address every single point before starting a new paragraph? Or maybe they’re having and emotional or stream of consciousness writing experience where run-on paragraphs would mirror their meandering mental reverie?

But why does it matter? Run-on can stuff too many ideas in one paragraph. Plus, it’s very tiring to read.

However, this is not to suggest that all paragraphs need to be short! I’ve also reviewed manuscripts where all paragraphs were so short that it made for a very choppy reading experience which is also tiring, similar to stop and go traffic. These folks have, what’s called in meditation, “monkey mind” writing, bouncing from this thought and that, not stringing any of it together.

A mix of paragraph lengths can make for more comfortable reading. (Did you notice how the paragraphs in this section were varied?) But the real reason to look at paragraph length—long or short—is to check for the logical and effective presentation of ideas.

How to Fix It

Watch for blocks. Whether on screen or in a printed out manuscript, visually scan for large blocks of text. I’ve even seen some paragraphs that take up a half to two-thirds of a letter size sheet of paper! What I’ve found is that these are prime targets for run-on paragraph editing.

Watch for lots of white stripes. Conversely, if you have a LOT of “white stripes,” or the spaces between paragraphs on a page or screen, your manuscript may be suffering from the monkey mind problem. Look at each idea and see if and how it relates (or doesn’t!) to its surrounding paragraph friends. Combine and reorganize to improve flow.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Karen! It's so easy to slip into run-on mode. :) Glad you've found Grammarly to be helpful. It is a good program. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a terrific day!

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 

      3 weeks ago from Georgia

      Great tips here Heidi. I used to use a lot of run-on sentences in my writing. But then I found Grammarly and it really helped me figure out how to change that. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Pamela, even though I am an editor, I really have to watch myself, too, for these issues. :)

      As I've been doing more audio work (audio books and podcasts), I've been noticing a blunder here and there in past work. Oops!

      Thanks so much for chiming in! Have a lovely week!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 weeks ago from United States

      I will have to see if I have used the same words over and over again. I'm really not sure. I am careful of paragraph sizes.

      Your article had so many excellent points to improve our writing. I do print articles out now and read them out loud in recent months. You are right as I have found many small mistakes. Thanks for this great review.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      You're welcome, Lawrence! Thanks for your support and have a great weekend!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Heidi

      Thank you for taking a look at this.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Leah, glad you agree on the dated writing references. I have seen some work (even here on HP) that is obsolete practically as soon as it's published.

      I don't know what's worst. Medical acronyms or tech and business ones, especially in finance. Ugh! Something to truly watch out for.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and chiming in! Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Oh, thank you, Donna, for reading and sharing! Yep, we all need some reminders now and then as writers. Hope you're having a great early summer so far. Cheers!

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 

      7 weeks ago from Massachusetts

      Great points here- I particularly like your suggestions about limiting references that date one's writing.

      Oh an the acronym thing drives me crazy, I see it in medical journals all the time. The authors assume everyone knows the acronyms and they don't follow the rule of spelling it out once in the text.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      7 weeks ago from USA

      These are great reminders and solutions for any type of writing you do. Pining to share with as many others as possible!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Don't we all, Chitrangada! We always think we could have done better. But as long as we keep trying to rid ourselves of these habits, we're doing our best.

      Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      8 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent article, with some useful advice and reminders.

      It’s true, that we get addicted to some words and phrases, and use it repeatedly.

      When I look back at my old writings, I always think, I could’ve done this in a better way. We learn everyday, and try to better ourselves, with each subsequent work as a writer.

      Thanks for sharing this wonderful information!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      8 weeks ago from Mississauga, ON

      Thank you for words of consolation, Heidi! It was my boss in 2004-06, who identified my correct use of the word, but then I got carried away LOL!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Suhail! Lots of writers have the "however" problem. So you're not alone. :) Glad you found some alternatives in the article. Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      You and me both, Natalie! Yes, it is good to step away or get an outside person for perspective. Thanks for chiming in and have a great week!

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      I see these mistakes also very often in manuscripts I'm editing. I know I make them as well and need to step away from what I am writing to be able to come back and catch all of them. We get used to writing a certain way and sometimes need outside help to point out something that is second nature to us. Thanks for a very useful article.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      8 weeks ago from Mississauga, ON

      Awesome article, Heidi!

      You started with something that I am guilty of - overuse of word 'however'. Now that you have given me a few alternates, I will use them.

      Regards,

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Linda! Thanks so much for stopping by and glad you found it helpful. Have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      True that, Brian!

      For nonfiction especially, I see authors cram everything on a topic into one paragraph when it actually should be broken up into subtopics. It's a judgment call, of course. But as you note, attention should be paid to length, rhythm, and flow. That's what many authors ignore.

      Thanks for adding that extra insight to the discussion! Have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Liz! Glad you found it helpful. Good luck with editing the book. I've found it to be an interesting experience. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, haven't we all! :) Glad you enjoyed the article. Hope you're having a fantastic weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Peggy! I've found the HubPages edits helpful, too. Glad you found these tips helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      8 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the great tips and reminders, Heidi. They are important for writers.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      8 weeks ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      In THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, in the "Principles of Compostion" chapter, the "Make the Paragraph the Unit of Composition" section, Strunk and White say, "Ordinarily, however, a subject requires division into topics, each of which should to be dealt with in a paragraph. The object of treating each topic in a paragraph by itself is, of course, to aid the reader. The beginning of each paragraph is a signal to him that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached."

      In fiction, ordinarily start a new paragraph if the topic, speaker, point of view, or setting changes.

      Those are flexible guidelines, with room for also giving attention to variety of length, rhythm, and flow.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      8 weeks ago from UK

      This is a very helpful article, especially as I've recently been asked to give editorial advice on a book.

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 

      2 months ago from Raleigh

      Heidi, I always enjoy your articles. This one pointed out some mistakes that I fall into doing. You would think after writing almost 10 years it wouldn't happen, but it does. Thank you, Heidi.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 months ago from USA

      I’ve been guilty of all of these, im certain. It’s good to have a reminder especially one that’s from such a credible source using fun terms like monkey mind.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      The editors at HubPages are helpful and have the effect of teaching us to be better writers if we use their suggestions. I am trying my best to become a better writer. Your tips are good ones.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 months ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, monkey mind was the only way I could best describe some of the writing I've read. Yikes! Bouncing around all over the place.

      And, yes, while we both have tried to rid ourselves of these habits, every once in a while they crop up.

      Thanks so much for stopping by since I know you're in busy farmers' market season. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 months ago from Chicago Area

      Rachael, you nailed a great reason why some of these problems persist: College. Let's write for the real world!

      I think we all have a tick or two in our writing. But one we have awareness, time to kick that bad habit.

      Thanks so much for thoughtfully chiming in to the discussion! Have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 months ago from Chicago Area

      Mary, I think we all are at times! :) Reading it out loud can really help. Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely weekend!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for these very useful tips. I am guilty of all of these at some of my writing so I will use my ears as they can hear somethings the eyes can't see.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 

      2 months ago from Illinois

      I think people overuse 'however' when they don't want to use 'but', 'furthermore' when they don't want to use 'and' or 'also', and so on. You have to get people out of thinking like they're writing an academic paper. They teach bad writing habits in college. Like using bigger words than necessary just to sound fancy. And padding word counts. I have the problem of using 'basically' too much. It's just a filler word verbally. In written articles, it serves no purpose. I guess what I thought I meant by it was 'what I think, in simpler terms, is...' or something like that. But there's no need for the preface. 'Usually' was another one I got in trouble with a lot. It was just my way of backing out of making an absolute statement. You should focus on what is absolutely true and absolutely false, instead of worrying about qualifying statements you know aren't true at all with modifiers. Run-ons are tricky too.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Monkey mind paragraphs...I love that phrase!

      I'm pretty certain I've made my share of these mistakes. I'm also pretty certain I've eliminated most of them over time, but it is still good to receive this reminder. Thanks my friend! Have a great weekend!

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