Common mistakes

Whoops! Shouldn’t’ve clicked on send.

There can be so many opportunities for error in writing. The speed of email encourages us to click on send without proofreading what we have written.

Tight deadlines mean we don’t always take enough care over our reports. Not only can this cause confusion, but also it reflects badly on our standards … and it’s not just about spelling mistakes. I’m going to outline a few of the common mistakes that people make in business writing.

Let’s start with tautology, which basically means saying the same thing twice, but usually with different words and, therefore, it is less noticeable. For example, I’ve often seen emails which say things such as “I will revert back to you next week” or “this is an essential prerequisite”.

“Revert” means to go back to or return; therefore, “to revert back” is tautology, the back is superfluous. A “prerequisite” is something that is required and, therefore, essential is not needed.

Another error that is easy to make is not putting the correct verb with a subject, for example:
The group are working well x
The group is working well √

A group is singular and therefore the second version is correct. You could, however, say “the members of the group are working well”.

Another common mistake is the misuse of comparatives and superlatives. For example, if you are comparing two things, one is the better, not the best; something can only be the best of three or more things.

This dress is the better of the two.
This suit is the best in the shop.

Of the two mountains, Sca Fell is the higher.
Everest is the highest mountain in the world.

And how about less and fewer? How many people flinch as they read “5 items or less” at the supermarket checkout? Well you should! It’s incorrect grammar ….. it should read “5 items or fewer”; read on ……

It’s all to do with countable and uncountable nouns and, before you doze off, this is very simple. A noun is countable if you can count it – for example, 1 bottle, 2 bottles. Bottle is a countable noun. Milk, however, is not (1 milk, 2 milks – I don’t think so).

If your noun is countable you should use fewer (items can be counted and, therefore, you should say “fewer items”), if it is uncountable you should use less (there is less milk in the jug than I thought).

And finally, here are some more examples of when people didn’t check carefully:

  1. After tea break staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board
  2. For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a day care centre on the 1st floor

Just take that extra few minutes to check your work carefully – STOP BEFORE YOU SEND!

 Find out more in Heather’s book ‘Successful Business Writing’ or sign-up for one of her courses.