Susan L. Farrell, Author

Good Writing in the New Year: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid

I am very excited to have a guest blogger this week, Jordan Conrad.  I have found Jordan’s postings extremely helpful in improving my writing.  If you want to improve your writing, and thus the first impressions people have of you, please keep reading.  And if you want to improve even more, click on his links at the end.

Jordan, thank you!

Good Writing in the New Year: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid, by Jordan Conrad

Making a good first impression is essential to forming good business relationships.  People usually make initial decisions about one another within the first seven seconds of meeting–meaning you need to make that good first impression and you need to do it fast.

Increasingly today, however, first impressions are being made through computer screens rather than face-to-face interactions.

Think about it.  How often today are introductions to new colleagues or business partners taking place through email?  How many times have you seen someone’s Twitter profile before a face to face introduction?  It’s not uncommon for people to go months working on a project together without ever interacting in real life.

Since more and more first impressions are taking place online, we need to make sure our writing is polished and reflects this shift.  We can’t allow easy mistakes to ruin a good first impression.

Today, I want to highlight five of the most common writing mistakes I see in people’s writing and how you can avoid them.

1. Affect versus Effect

These two words confuse more people than any other two I know.  Writers will actually go out of their way to avoid them just because they’re unsure about their use, but, once you get the hang of them, they aren’t scary at all.

The best way to think about them is to remember that affect is most commonly used as a verb, and effect is most commonly used as a noun.  If you can remember this simple trick, you will avoid 95% of all potential mistakes using affect and effect.

2. Who versus Whom

If affect and effect are the most confusing words I know, who and whom are a close second–and they might actually be worse because they aren’t as easy to avoid in your sentences.

What needs to be remembered with these two words is that who is used as a subject while whom is used as an object.  A good mnemonic for these is to substitute the word in question with he/him.  If he makes sense, use who.  If him makes sense, use whom.

  • You gave your car to whom? (him)
  • Who (he) called you?

3. I versus Me

A lot of people think it’s more formal to use I instead of me.

  • Before you leave, please give the DVD to Lisa or I.

Not only is this not “formal,” but it’s also incorrect.  Just like who/whom, I and me both have specific functions in a sentence.  I functions as a subject, while me functions as an object.

So when you are the subject of the sentence, use I.

  • Lisa and I need that DVD before you leave.

But appearing after a preposition, you must use me.

  • Before you leave, please give the DVD to Lisa or me.

4. Using Like as a Conjunction

Like can be many things in a sentence, but, in formal writing, it cannot be a conjunction.  Like functions primarily as a preposition, so it therefore takes objects, but you shouldn’t be seeing any verbs following it.

  • These people act like they’ve never seen rain before today. (Wrong)
  • These people act as if they’ve never seen rain before today. (Correct)
  • I play the guitar just like you. (Correct)
  • I play the guitar just like you do. (Wrong)

5. Run-on Sentences

Run-on sentences are quite common and also quite easy to avoid if you take the time to read your sentences carefully.  A run-on sentence is simply two independent clauses that are placed together without a joining word or any punctuation.

  • We need to go to the beach soon it’s getting late.

The above sentence is a run-on sentence, but we can easily fix it by adding a period or a conjunction.

  • We need to go to the beach soon.  It’s getting late.
  • We need to go to the beach soon because it’s getting late.

If you can avoid these five mistakes in your future writing and business communications, you’ll be setting yourself up for a good fist impression every time.

To see a more complete list of common writing mistakes, please check out my e-book 35 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Writing or visit the Confusing Words section of


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