Writing Tip of the Week
Ten Top Mistakes in Students' Writing
Learning how to edit is just as important as learning how to write well.
That's because good writing is 20 percent inspiration and 80 percent revision. Before you hand in your work next time, correct the Ten Top Mistakes in your writing and you'll be happy you did because your marks will show it!
1. Unnecessary Words
Eliminate words that don't need to be in your writing in order for the reader to make sense out of the story. They only add clutter to your writing.
Weak: I ate pizza for dinner, then I worked on the computer, and then I went to bed.
Strong: I ate pizza for dinner, worked on the computer, and went to bed.
Stronger: After eating pizza for dinner, I worked on the computer before going to bed.
Weak: I dove down into the lake from the dock.
Strong: I dove into the lake from the dock.
2. Necessary Words
Don't scrimp on words when needed to clarify your message.
Weak: The principal had an assembly for students who hate math and their parents. (Do the students hate their parents?)
Strong: The principal had an assembly for students who hate math and for their parents.
Weak: The skyscrapers in Toronto are taller than Montreal.
Strong: The skyscrapers in Toronto are taller than those in Montreal.
Say it once!
Weak: Her date was unforgettable. She will never forget it.
Strong: Her date was unforgettable.
Weak: Don't repeat the same thing over again. (Over and again have the same meaning and repeat means "to say the same thing.")
Strong: Don't repeat!
4. Weak Words
Substitute weak words for stronger words.
real mad furious
so good amazing
pretty weak frail
so much extremely
5. Double Negatives
Using a double negative is like repeating your initial point. Don't do it!
Weak: I haven't set no plates on the table yet.
Strong: I haven't set any plates on the table yet.
Negatives such as nobody, never, not, can't, don't are obvious, whereas negatives such barely, unlike, hardly are not as obvious.
Weak: I didn't see hardly any people in the car.
Strong: I saw hardly any people in the car.
6. Misplaced Phrases
Place phrases close to the part of the sentence they describe in order to make the meaning clear to the reader and avoid embarrassing yourself.
Weak: After baking for twenty minutes in the oven, you should let the pizza cool before slicing it. (Were YOU in the oven?)
Strong: After baking for twenty minutes in the oven, the pizza should be allowed to cool before tasting it.
Weak: Swimming across the bay, the sun shone on the children. (The phrase swimming across the bay is closer to the noun sun than to the noun children, so it sounds as if the sun is swimming across the bay. Do you see what I mean?)
Strong: Swimming across the bay, the children felt the sun shining on them.
7. Vague Writing
Be clear when making your point.
Weak: Some of the kids weren't being fair to her (who). He (who) sent her over there (where) on a wild goose chase to find her phone. (Why was she looking for her phone? Did the kids hide it? Why did they hide it?)
Strong: Some of the kids were picking on Julie. Jack sent her to the office on a wild goose chase to get her phone after he hid it in his bookbag to amuse his friends.
8. Run-on Sentences
Chances are that if you've ever jacked up the word count in your story (hoping to get a better mark), you've written run-on sentences. They drive the reader crazy! When you've made your point, use a period. Or if you've completed your thought or group of ideas, end the paragraph and start another one. Don't go on as if there's no time to take a breath! Stop!
Weak: There were three bikes in the garage and one was for my mom and one was for my dad and one was for me and we were supposed to ride around the mountains and back before the sun went down but the bikes stayed in the garage where they had been all week because my mother was busy getting the house ready to sell while my father was working overtime, so even though my parents had said we'd go for a ride together I was sitting on the porch on the summer day doing nothing but watching kids driving down the street on their bikes and . . . (Do you want to pull your hair out yet?)
Strong: Although my parents had promised that we'd ride to the mountains and back before the sun was down, our bikes sat in the garage where they had been all week. My mother was busy getting the house ready to sell and my father was working overtime while I sat on the porch watching kids drive their bikes down the street on the summer day.
9. Using slang
Sometimes using slang in your writing (speaking) isn't appropriate, but at other times it is preferable. For instance, you shouldn't use slang when talking to a boss, whereas it's fine to include it in the dialogue of a contemporary story. Otherwise your characters won't sound real.
Weak: "Hello, Justin, Would you please assist me in studying after school for the examination in Science tomorrow. My parents are expecting me to achieve an "A", while I expect nothing less of myself." (Come on! Seriously?)
Strong: "Hey, Justin. Can you help me study after school for the Science test tomorrow? My parents will go crazy if I don't pull off an "A" again and, like, I think I can do it. I get stuck on formulas but just need a bit of review. I'll owe you big time."
10. Consistent/ Parallel Construction
When constructing each sentence be consistent in the way you arrange the words and phrases, and this will give your writing a polished look.
I hate reading about politics, playing tennis, and cabbage.
(Reading about politics is a gerund phrase; playing tennis is a gerund phrase; cabbage is a noun.)
Consistent: I hate reading about politics, playing tennis and eating cabbage.
Inconsistent: Ali drew his foot back and the soccer ball was kicked.
(Ali drew is in the active voice; the soccer ball was kicked is in the passive voice.)
Consistent: Ali drew his leg back and kicked the soccer ball.
(Ali drew is in the active voice; (Ali) kicked is in the active voice.)
Inconsistent: Rachel says she's happy, Jacob says he's not, and Jackson said he's indifferent.
(Verb tenses are inconsistent.)
Consistent: Rachel says she's happy, Jacob says he's not, and Jackson says he's indifferent.