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Top 10 Self-Help Editing Tips

These quick tips will help you find and correct some typical expression errors.

To edit your own writing most effectively:

  • read your draft out loud OR
  • carefully review a print-out with a pencil in hand (better yet, do both!).

1. “Sound-alikes” or confusables: spell checkers think all of these are correct

  • it’s/its
  • effect/affect
  • accept/except
  • everyday/every day
  • awhile/a while
  • altogether/all together
  • anytime/any time
  • principle/principal

. . . and others!

Find out more: Common Errors in English Usage

2. Pronoun misuses

  • I/she/he” incorrectly used as the object of a verb or preposition
    • Janice will divide the work between she and I her and me.” (use the object form after a preposition)
    • “Mr Big invited Matthew and I me to the year-end bash.” (use the object form after a verb that takes an object)
  • Incorrect use of reflexive/intensive pronouns
    • “You can telephone Ms Higgs or myself me at any time.” (again, use the object form after a verb that takes an object)

Find out morePronoun Case

3. Apostrophe misuses

  • Use an apostrophe only for contractions and for possessives
  • Do not use an apostrophe to indicate a plural (the so-called “grocer’s apostrophe) except after numerals, letters, or symbols. So never--“Potato's ON SALE!” but instead--“Potatoes ON SALE!”

Find out moreApostrophes

4. Errors in subject-verb or noun-pronoun agreement

  • “After a stock has had many months of strong performance, they it…” (the subject and the main verb are separated by a longer element)
  • “Careful consideration and research is are important.” (compound subjects are plural)
  • Each of our global funds has their its own manager.” (“each” is singular)
  • Neither Matthew nor Janice have has the experience to do this.” (“neither” means one of the other, not both)

HOT TIP! “Their” agrees with plural subjects. Though we often use it informally instead of “her/his”—e.g. A student should bring their own tablet to class—in more formal writing it’s best to use a plural (“students”) to agree with “their.”


Find out more:

5. Sentence fragments and run-ons

  • Don’t punctuate a phrase as if it were a complete sentence.  A phrase functions as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.
  • Don’t punctuate a dependent clause as if it were a complete sentence.  Adding a
  • subordinator (such as because, if, unless, while, since…) to a clause means it must be connected with the independent clause that comes before or after it.
  • Avoid “run on” sentences (i.e. too many clauses/phrases, too little punctuation, too much use of “and”).

Find out more:

6. Missing commas. 

You need a comma …

  • After introductory sentence elements
  • Before concluding phrases, especially “—ing”
  • Before and/but/or/for/nor/yet/so when they join two independent clauses
  • Before and after an adjective or adverbial element occurring in mid-sentence
  • Between elements of a list (strictly speaking, this includes before the final “and”)
  • Before (or on each side of) a non-restrictive “who” or “which”-clause

Find out moreRules for Comma Usage

7. Unwanted commas (or—“where I’d take a breath”!). 

Do not put a comma …

  • Between the subject and the main verb
  • Between the main verb and its object
  • After the final adjective of a series
  • Between only two elements (or two coordinated words/phrases) joined by “and”
  • After an introductory “and” or “but”
  • Before a restrictive “that”-clause

Find out more: Finding Commas in All the Wrong Places  (“When Not to Use a Comma”) 

8. Modifier misuses

  • Misplaced:  in the sentence, but in the wrong place (especially single adverbs like “only,” “almost,” “just”)
  • Ambiguous:  mid-sentence phrases that could modify elements before or after
  • Dangling:  introductory phrases that refer to the wrong noun or something not present in the sentence

Find out more: Modifiers

9. Mid-sentence structural “shifts”

  • Verb tense (e.g. from past to present)
  • Point of view (e.g. from third-person to “you”-voice)
  • Singular to plural or vice-versa (especially with pronouns)
  • Mixed sentence construction:  beginning with one type of phrase/clause and ending with another type that doesn’t logically align (e.g. “I found the price to be too expensive” – the item is expensive but the price would be high)

Find out more: Mixed Constructions

10. Incorrect uses of other punctuation: semicolon, colon, end-punctuation, quotation marks, hyphen, or dash.

Find out more:  Brief Overview of Punctuation