12 spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes copywriters should check for
There are lots of common mistakes that copywriters should check for before submitting content to a client.
Copywriters are not infallible; we’re only human and we’re all subject to a lapse of concentration, or a slip of the keyboard. That’s why a thorough copy-edit and proofread should always be part of the copywriting process.
A copy-edit will prevent any howlers and save you losing face with a client – so make sure it’s part of your content strategy today!
To help you out, we’ve compiled a list some common mistakes that copywriters should look out for before submitting their work. And guess what – not all of them will show up in a spellcheck!
Common spelling mistakes copywriters should check for
Correct spelling is essential for copywriters. Your readers are much more likely to notice a spelling mistake than a grammatical error, or misplaced comma.
There are no grey areas with spelling, it’s right or wrong, and your readers will recognise this. Brush up on your spelling and prevent these common mistakes from popping up in your content:
1. Definitely – not defiantly
We’re not sure if it’s the advent of predictive text or general confusion, but (believe it or not) this is one of today’s most common spelling mistakes!
We’ve read too many times that someone will ‘defiantly have fish and chips for dinner’ or ‘defiantly see you later’. In fact, there’s a whole online community dedicated to this one mistake. Here are some of our favourite screenshots:
If you search for “defiantly” on Twitter, you’ll see 99% of people using it to mean “definitely” and 1% complaining about the misspelling.
— Stan Carey (@StanCarey) October 17, 2014
I have defiantly put on weight this weekend!
— liv fay (@oliviaanewton_) March 9, 2014
2. Misspell –not mispell
It’s ironic, but ‘mispell’ is one of the most common misspellings in the English language!
It needs not one ‘s’ but two, people! This error hasn’t generated as much Internet chat as ‘defiantly’, but it should certainly have a place on your checklist!
3. Receive – not recieve
This is a case where the ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ rule applies!
The words below don’t follow this ‘i’ before ‘e’ pattern, so if in doubt it’s always worth checking:
4. Difficulty –not dificulty
The ‘Matilda’ fans amongst you will recognise the rhyme; Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs FFI …
5. Illicit vs elicit
This seems to be more confusion than spelling mistake, but we see it a lot and it bugs us! Here’s a quick definition for both:
- illicit: (adjective) something that is illegal or forbidden
- elicit: (verb) to draw something out or evoke an emotion/feeling
BONUS TIP – Americanisms
If you include a ‘z’ in your spelling, it’s probably an Americanism. For example, UK English would use ‘optimise’, whereas American English would use ‘optimize’.
Spellchecks are sometimes configured to use American English, so be sure to check this!
Common punctuation mistakes copywriters should check for
Punctuation can be the bane of an editor’s life. Some people have their own ideas and opinions on punctuation rules, others depend on a spellcheck to do the hard work for them.
Make sure you get your punctuation right by reading our list of common mistakes:
6. Incorrect use of apostrophes
Many believe that apostrophes don’t matter, or are too complicated to understand. We’ll let you in on a secret – Key Stage 2 students can use them correctly, so you should too!
Here’s a quick rundown on their use:
1) Apostrophes are used to denote a missing letter or letters in contractions
Example 1: I can’t instead of I cannot
Example 2: he’s instead of he is or he has
2) Apostrophes are used to denote possession
Example 1: the company’s logo – the logo belonging to the company
Example 2: Beth’s blog – the blog belonging to Beth
The apostrophe will usually come before the possessive ‘s’.
However, if you have a word that is plural or already ends in ‘s’, simply add the apostrophe after the ‘s’, like this:
Example 1: Charles‘ wife (Charles‘s wife could also be used here)
Example 2: the dogs’ bowls – the bowls belonging to the dogs
Example 3: the girls’ coats – the coats belonging to the girls
Watch out for plurals that don’t end in ‘s’, e.g. children or men. Add ’s here to show possession.
Example 1: the children’s homework – the homework belonging to the children
Example 2: the men’s shoes – the shoes belonging to the men
A note re it’s and its…
So, this is a bit of a funny one. It’s does not show possession, but is the contracted form of ‘it is’. Its, on the other hand, is used to indicate possession.
Example 1: It’s a sunny day.
Example 2: The cat likes to chase its own tail.
7. Not using commas
Without commas, sentences quickly become confusing blocks of text without any breaks. But don’t worry, this is an easy one to fix!
Read your sentences aloud and take note of any pauses in your speech. These pauses indicate where commas should be used.
But, don’t go overboard! Once you’ve added your commas, re-read your sentences and check if using a full-stop might work better in some cases.
8. Incorrect use of semicolons and colons
Semicolons and colons are great tools for copywriters – if used in the right way. Here are some basic rules of thumb:
- Semicolons: Use semicolons to join two or more ideas (or parts) of a sentence that have equal position or rank, and that could stand as sentences in their own right. Semicolons can also be used to separate items in a list, particularly when these are grammatically complex.
- Colons: Use colons to introduce a list of items. They can also be used to separate two independent clauses, when the second explains or illustrates the first.
9. Mixing singular and plural
If the noun is singular, the verb should also be singular. The same applies in the case of the plural.
Singular example: The woman who went to the meeting was bored.
Plural example: The women who went to the meeting were bored.
10. The Oxford comma
An Oxford comma is used before ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a list of three or more items and is the subject of much debate!
Example with Oxford comma: I love pizza, spaghetti, and steak.
Example without Oxford comma: I love pizza, spaghetti and steak.
The presence or lack of a comma might seem unimportant, but the associated consequences can be huge – especially if you’re a dairy driver in Maine!
It’s up to you to decide whether to use it, just make sure your content is consistent by stating your preference in your editorial style guide.
Common grammar mistakes copywriters should check for
At Write My Site, we’re proud to be grammar snobs!
We understand the importance of grammar in helping the world make sense. Here are the key mistakes you should check for:
11. Using the passive voice
This is a common habit that all copywriters should check for. If you want your audience to engage with your content, you need to use the active voice! It’s a bit of a no-brainer really, because Yoast likes it too!
Passive example: Cats are liked by Kate.
Active example: Kate likes cats.
See how much punchier the active voice is? Try to use it in all your writing.
12. Repeating words in the same sentence
Where possible, don’t repeat words within the same sentence, or in the sentences that come immediately before or after it.
This can be tricky with pronouns, articles, prepositions, conjunctions or auxiliary verbs – so don’t worry too much about those.
In some cases (like bullet point lists) a little repetition is allowed. You should always be on the lookout for repeated words, but removing them is sometimes a judgement call.
So, that’s it; 12 mistakes copywriters should check for in their content. Avoid them now to make sure your content is up to scratch – good luck!