I don’t make mistakes!
So you think you’re a pretty good writer? You think you probably would not make the common mistakes that others do? Then read on and see if you do, indeed, avoid some of the more common pitfalls…..
Good writing does not come easily – you need to work at it! If you are engaged in serious, or what I call ‘high-level’ writing, such as for a thesis or policy document, then you will know you really need to work hard at it. Good writing does not just happen. So editing, and indeed revision and polishing, are absolutely necessary. A good starting point is to avoid some common errors, so let us examine what these might be. Since English is not spoken or written the same way all over the world, here I am referring largely to the way we use English in Australia.
Some of the following inaccuracies are seen quite frequently in written English in Australia, including sometimes in daily papers and the media.
In regards to…….
This is often used inaccurately. The phrase should be ‘with regard to’ or ‘in regard to’.
The following sentence is incorrect:
- The company can be sued in regards to these policies.
The following are examples of correct use:
- This company performs very well in regard to wages and conditions
- The manager spoke to the staff in regard to the revised roster.
Regards is correctly used when you send greetings to someone, as in
- Please give my regards to your mother.
Woman / women
It seems simple enough – ‘woman’ is singular and ‘women’ is plural. Yet almost daily you can find incorrect use of these two words in our newspapers.
Criterion or criteria?
‘Criterion’ is the singular and ‘criteria’ the plural. Many people use just the plural criteria, even when they mean to use the singular. That is, ‘this criteria’ is wrong and should be ‘this criterion’. The plural, of course, is ‘these criteria’.
The following are correct examples
- The criteria we used for selection of the winner are clear.
- The first criterion needs to be modified as it is too difficult to meet.
It or this?
When you are referring to a thing or item previously mentioned you can simply refer to ‘it’. However, if you are referring to a previous sentence, statement or clause, you should use ‘this’. The following are examples of incorrect use:
- The spread of the virus is having an impact on financial markets. It could cause serious problems for investors.
- Our newest items are selling well. It should improve our figures for this quarter.
Correct examples are as follows:
- The spread of the virus is having an impact on financial markets. This could cause serious problems for investors.
- Our newest items are selling well. This should improve our figures for this quarter.
Repetition in the same sentence should be avoided, unless it is absolutely necessary for clarity. The following examples contain unnecessary repetition:
- New employees sometimes struggle to understand employee rights and obligations.
- A manager needs to be absolutely clear about the manager’s role and responsibilities.
These sentences could be better expressed as follows:
- New employees sometimes struggle to understand their rights and obligations.
- A manager needs to be absolutely clear about her role and responsibilities.
On the other hand, repetition in the same paragraph, particularly of key nouns, can contribute to cohesion and makes your point more forcefully, as in the example below, where ‘student’ is mentioned several times:
Many international students now come to Australia to complete their tertiary studies. Australia is among the top 4 or 5 destinations in the world where students come to study, because it is considered a safe place and the standards are regarded as being very high. However, will Australia be able to maintain its position globally? Universities have to ensure that they deliver consistently high outcomes and that the student experience is a pleasant and successful one. Only in this way will we continue to attract international students to our shores.
In more recent years, the use of apostrophes in Australian writing seems to be very haphazard, with many people simply throwing in an apostrophe as soon as they see a plural.
An apostrophe should be used in the following instances:
To show possession:
- Jane’s house; the student’s desk; the students’ lecturer;
To indicate where words have been shortened (contracted forms) as in examples below:
- It’s very important; there’s no room available; they’re all in this class.
Consistency of style
Inconsistency is sometimes seen in the use of names of companies or large entities. Writers sometimes display inconsistency by referring to an organisation both in the plural and the singular (that is, as ‘it’ and ‘they’).
For example, in the following sentence, International Insurance Brokers (IIB) is used both as singular and plural in the same sentence:
- International Insurance Brokers (IIB) have decided to award 5 new scholarships, which will allow it to train winners over several months. (IIB plural verb and ‘it’ singular).
This should be
- International Insurance Brokers (IIB) have decided to award 5 new scholarships, which will allow them to train winners over several months. (both plural verb and ‘them’ plural)
- International Insurance Brokers (IIB) has decided to award 5 new scholarships, which will allow it to train winners over several months. (both singular verb and ‘it’ singular)
Did you fall into any of the above traps? It is easy to avoid this type of common mistake – the important thing is to make sure that you edit your writing – no matter how good a writer you think you are!