This blog post was written by the amazing Rosie Morley from Hedera House. Rosie is the best content polisher on earth (in my opinion) and if you ever need someone to proofread and edit your copy she is your girl. She also recently brought out Blog In Bloom, a book that will help you fix up your grammar and spelling.
For my new workbook, Blog in Bloom, I analysed twenty pieces of online writing, including five info-products, looking for things like grammar mistakes and style choices, as well as how the writer had developed their individual voice.
While I found so many positives (and really enjoyed writing about them!) I also found a lot of mistakes—which is ok, obviously, because we’re all human. But if my research can help you to avoid those mistakes when you’re writing your next info-product, then I’ll be a happy girl.
Too many or too few hyphens
Hyphens can be tricky, so I’m not surprised that of the five products I analysed, all of them contained hyphen errors.
These little guys may be tiny, but they’re super useful because they reduce potential confusion in your writing.
The main functions of the hyphen are to:
- join compound adjectives (usually before nouns, unless the first word in the compound adjective is an adverb; that is, ends with -ly)
e.g., a well-known chef (but the chef was well known—it’s after the noun; also, a highly respected chef—that’s an adverb)
- express ages when the age modifies the noun (usually, that means it will appear before the noun)
e.g., my thirty-year-old sister (but my sister is thirty years old; also, he’s a two-year-old—the noun is implied)
- join numbers and fractions
e.g., fifty-three guests; one-third of the guests
- add prefixes and suffixes to words
e.g., my ex-boyfriend; he was anti-fun; the sugar-free brownies
As I said, hyphens can be tricky—and that really showed in the products I analysed. Even though they were all created by talented business owners with sound writing skills, every single one of them got hyphens wrong in some way—they missed them out and put them in where they weren’t needed.
Too much capitalisation
Even though capitalisation doesn’t seem like a confusing subject, I think it’s one that a lot of people don’t quite understand—and that’s probably why it was one of the most common errors I found. The biggest problem with capitalisation was definitely that there was too much of it—often people capitalise something when they’re trying to emphasise it or make it look important, which is not necessarily the right thing to do.
While some would disagree with me on this, the general trend in the writing world at the moment is towards as little capitalisation as possible. That’s why I suggest double-checking your capitals in your writing and asking yourself if they really need to be there.
Here’s some guidelines to follow for capitalisation:
- capitalise the start of a sentence, including when the sentence is a direct quote
e.g., She said, ‘Are you sure?’
- capitalise proper nouns and titles for books, albums etc.
e.g., Rosie, Blog in Bloom, Saturday, Australia
- capitalise nicknames or family names when used in place of a name
e.g., Mum, Dad, Mama, Nanna
- capitalise the pronoun I
- capitalise the first word after a colon if what’s after the colon is an independent clause
e.g., I’m sure he’ll come back: His coat is still here.
- capitalise the first letter of the first word in an article title
e.g., Ten ways to improve your grammar
Too many commas & comma splices
Ah, commas… the most used and misused punctuation mark out there. Poor little guys—they get thrown around a lot.
Although you might have been taught when you were little that commas just go where you pause, that’s definitely not true. It might have been a useful rule for six-year-old you, but now you’re a grown-up writer (even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way) and you need more sophisticated rules!
Here’s how you use commas:
- after an introductory phrase or conjunction at the start of a sentence
e.g., However, the talk was interesting and worth the money.
- before FANBOYS and an independent clause
e.g., I wanted to sleep, but I wasn’t tired. (but I went to sleep and woke up at 10am—because of the dependent clause after the and)
- between items in a list (unless an item or items contain punctuation—see semicolons)
e.g., I love to write, play netball, read, and cook.
- around non-essential clauses (you can also use em dashes or brackets)
e.g., Your book, if you don’t mind me saying, was enthralling.
- to introduce direct quotes
e.g., Sam said, ‘Can we go to the movies today?’
- between coordinate adjectives (two adjectives modifying a word in the same way)
e.g., I grew a tall, sturdy tree. (tall and sturdy both modify tree—you could replace the comma with and; but I ate an excellent spicy curry—because excellent modifies spicy curry)
Comma splices were also a big problem. Compared to the rest of the rules around commas, comma splices are pretty easy to fix. They occur when you link two independent clauses (sentences that can stand on their own) with a comma. For example:
I like this ice cream, chocolate is my favourite flavour.
You can find comma splices by checking whether the two bits of the sentence on either side of the comma could stand on their own. In the example above, you could easily replace the comma with a full stop, and the split sentences would still make sense, right? That’s a good sign that you’ve got a comma splice on your hands.
Fix a comma splice by replacing the comma with a full stop, dash, or semicolon, or adding in a conjunction. For example:
I like this ice cream—chocolate is my favourite flavour.
I like this ice cream because chocolate is my favourite flavour.
Phewph. That’s a lot to remember, right? I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t take all that in at once—but keep working on it. Be critical of your commas!
Too many expletive constructions
Expletive constructions occur when you use a phrase that essentially means nothing. You often use them when you’re stalling, trying to think of something to say, or if you’re unsure of how to introduce a topic—and they pop into writing so easily that usually you don’t even notice they’re there.
Phrases like it is and there are are considered expletive constructions when they don’t refer to anything. They’re not grammatically incorrect, and sometimes it’s hard
(or impossible) to get rid of them without creating a mutilated sentence. But if you can get rid of an expletive construction, your sentence is usually going to be better off because of it.
Expletive constructions usually pop up at the beginning of sentences, or in the middle where you’re joining two clauses together.
Some common expletive constructions:
- it is
- there is
- here are
Lack of consistency
Consistency means making the same choices, particularly in an individual piece of writing or in a body of writing. That is, you don’t need to choose a spelling of jewellery when you first start writing and then stick to it your whole life. But if you spell it jewellery in a blog post, then every time you say jewellery in that blog post (or in your blog, or your brand), it should be spelt the same way.
Try to be consistent with grammar choices, spelling, style choices, voice, and formatting.
If you know me at all then you’ll know this is one of my favourite subjects to talk about. I love proofreading. Even though nobody is perfect and so I don’t think any piece of writing can ever be completely free of errors, proofreading helps so much. It makes your writing looking more professional and polished—and who doesn’t want that?
In analysing info-products, I found some errors that probably could have been picked up with a thorough proofread. The most common were:
- Typos: They happen! Typos are just part of modern life. In saying that, though, you’d probably prefer not to have typos in your writing, right? If you find that you’re especially prone to typos, try reading your work backwards or using your finger to trace the words as you proofread (your eyes won’t be as likely to skim over words).
- Spelling errors: Again, these happen. My tip? Learn to google things if you’re even slightly unsure about them. It’ll only take you a couple of seconds, and I really think this makes a difference.
- Awkward sentences: I think one of the biggest signs that someone hasn’t proofread their work is when it contains clearly awkward sentences that could have been fixed. Most of the time, awkward sentences are an easy fix—just reword them or break them up into separate sentences. Sometimes there’s no getting around an awkward sentence without compromising your meaning, but usually you’ll be able to make them shine without much work on your part.
So those are my top six things to look out for when you’re writing your next info-product! I know that no piece of writing is ever completely perfect, but hopefully these tips will help you to make your next product shine that little bit more.
Do you have any questions for Rosie about grammar and spelling? Leave them below!