You or You're: How can I avoid pesky writing mistakes?

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Answered by: Lisa, An Expert in the How to Write Well Category
You know the moment: you are furiously tapping the keyboard to get out that report that was due two days ago. Your words are flowing, the thoughts are pouring out onto the document. This is a piece of cake, you think. Wait ‘til the boss sees this! You hit the send button after just a cursory glance at the document. Yep, everything looks good and there are just a couple of squiggly lines under a few words where you transposed a letter or two. They’re easily fixed. You’re good to go! You hit the send button and breathe a sigh of relief. Easy, you think.



Not so fast. Word doesn’t pick up misused words in documents, and certain words are so commonly misused in casual writing that we sometimes become blind to them. The basic rules of English learned in grade school seem to be ignored in the interest of getting out the message. But your professional reputation could be hurt if you make these mistakes repeatedly (after all, an occasional misstep is okay). Let’s take a look at some ways to avoid pesky writing mistakes many people make:

Interchanging “your” and “you’re”: “Your” is a possessive, as in, “This is your email” and “Do you like sugar in your latte, sir?” “You’re” is a contraction of “you” and “are”, and should be used to save time. So remember, if there’s a party and you wish to invite the boss, it’s “You’re Invited!”



Another way to avoid pesky writing mistakes is knowing how to correctly use “than” and “then”. “Than” is a word that is used when comparing two or more things, as in “I would rather be bowling than writing this email”, or “My cubicle is smaller than his”. The word “then” denotes time progression, as in, “I ate my lunch then I played internet chess”.

In order to affect change in your writing, you must be effective in correcting your mistakes, so you should know the difference between “affect” and “effect”. “Affect” is a verb, used to denote action, as in “The telephone affected my internet chess game” or, “I often affect a British accent to sound smarter”. “Effect” is a noun, and is generally the result of the affection, as in “Because the phone keeps ringing, the effect of the disruption has lowered my online chess rating.”

Certain punctuation can be extremely pesky, dotting the page with misused commas or semi-colons. A few rules of thumb to remember:

Semi-colons: why bother? Semi-colons are wonderful little pieces of punctuation that separate two complete sentences (independent clauses) and help tie your writing together nicely; they help with the flow of writing and help you avoid choppy sentences. See? Wasn’t that a nice sentence? Also, semi-colons should be used to separate items that have commas in their names, such as, “I lived in Baltimore, Maryland; Jefferson, Missouri; and Portland, Oregon.

Commas can be overused. The basics of comma usage are to denote a natural pause in writing, or two separate two or more things. Go back and read your writing, count the commas, and, if you have too many, rewrite the sentence or separate into another sentence.

Reread your work to avoid pesky writing mistakes, and you’ll have to revise less!

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