June 21, 2012

Four Common Editing Mistakes

Over the last several years I have written numerous papers, had an internship where I edited books, read and edited many of my friends’ papers for class, and I currently work at a newspaper where I edit milestones and obituaries.

Yesterday my maid of honor sent me my bridal shower invitations to read over before she ordered them. Sure enough I found a couple of errors and realized that perhaps my first blog post about writing advice should be about the common editing errors I have seen over the years. I have included the top four mistakes that I continually see being made over and over again and how you can fix them. (Yes I make these mistakes too.) You never want to send someone a book to look over that is riddled with errors or turn in a college term paper with spelling mistakes. Take the time and make sure your writing is error free.

Spelling Errors

One of the most common mistakes I see when editing are spelling errors. I believe that most of these mistakes come from the use of Spell Check. It is a great tool to have and cuts down on some editing time, but Spell Check doesn’t know the context of what you are writing and may steer you in the wrong direction.
If you spell a word correctly bur perhaps it isn’t the correct word to use in the context of what you are writing about, Spell Check won’t pick up on that.

Example: I defiantly remember putting my keys on the counter. Correct word: definitely (I spell this word incorrect a lot and for some reason spell check always wants me to use defiantly instead of definitely and unless you are paying close attention you won’t notice the difference.)

Example: I need to by a new pair of shoes. Correct word: buy (If you type a simple error like that Spell Check isn’t going to catch it because by is also a word.)

Advice: Don’t just use Spell Check. Make sure you re-read your paper after you have used Spell Check. Spell Check is a great tool, but only when it accompanies a real person looking over your paper. It is even better if you have someone else look at your paper too. You may miss something because you are familiar with the work. A fresh pair of eyes may catch something you have missed. Also, don’t just have your friend look for spelling errors, any of these mistakes in this blog post will have a better chance at getting caught if someone else reads over your paper/book.

There vs. Their vs. They’re

Okay, I now you are all probably thinking that you learned which “there” to use in grade school, but I see this mistake a lot, even when reading over college papers. So here is a quick reference guide if you ever need it.

Use there when referring to a place and to indicate the existence of something.

The grocery store is over there.
I live right there in that house.
There are a lot of cars in the parking lot today.

Use their to indicate possession.

We should go over to Tom and Jane’s house. Their house is always so clean.
Their book collection is extensive.

They’re is a contraction of the words they and are, so use they’re when you are saying they are.

They’re having a picnic today at the park. We should join them.

Advice: If you are using any of these words in your paper read through the sentence one more time. This error is something that shouldn’t be happening. We all slip up occasionally, but remember, we learned this in grade school.
*Also be aware of using the words your and you’re.

Apostrophe Misuse
Apostrophes are used for contractions and possessives. I see most apostrophe errors in possessives but I see the biggest one in the contraction it’s.

Form the possessive of a singular noun by adding ‘s
Example: Mike’s bike, the child’s coloring book

Form the possessive of a plural noun by adding an apostrophe after the final letter if it is an s or by adding ‘s if the final letter is not an s.
Example: The students’ desks, the children’s toys

The apostrophe is used to indicate the omitted letters in a contraction. The problem I see most in this instance is it’s/its confusion.
It’s is a contraction for it is, it is NOT a possessive. Its is the possessive for it.
Example: “It’s a wise dog that scratches its own fleas.”

Advice: When in doubt use it is instead of the contraction and read the sentence carefully.

A fragment is an incomplete sentence because it can’t stand by itself. These can get complicated so I’m just going to give you the basics.
Luckily Word usually points out if you have a fragment in your paper, but not a lot of people know why it is a fragment or how to fix it. Here are three easy components to look for.
  1.      Subject: person, place, or thing performing or doing the action,
  2.       Verb: the action 
  3.    A complete idea: the reader isn’t left waiting for another word.
     Example: Paper thrown everywhere. Correct: Paper was thrown everywhere.
     Example: During the stressful chemistry test. Correct: She cried during the stressful chemistry test.
     Advice: Always ask yourself if you think you have a fragment, “Is this a complete idea?”
     For more information on fragments and other grammar issues visit http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/sentence-fragments-grammar.aspx
     I use this website if I have a grammar question. I find it very helpful.

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