I am constantly reading and getting angry about the following common writing mistakes I find all over the place—which are easy to correct—so let’s all take a minute at the beginning of 2008 to make an effort to avoid them:
Less versus Fewer
If you can count it, use fewer. If you can’t, use less. For example, you should not write: “I have less candy bars than Jane.” It’s fewer. Keep in mind that less can also be an adverb (“John is less intelligent than Jane”), so it’s even more important to get this right.
I.e. versus e.g.
These are overused anyway, but if you’re going to do it, do it right. I.e. means “that is,” e.g. means “for example.” Also, both always contain dots and should pretty much always be surrounded by commas, e.g., well, that was easy to show.
Yeah, you know the word people always pronounce “ex-edra”? Well, it’s pronounced the way it looks when you spell it correctly. And it does have the space. Next time you say it or use it, try it the right way. And sure, you can abbreviate it as etc.
Overuse of “that”
I call this the “that disease.” Most people have it. Look through something you’ve written and notice how many times you’ve used “that” when it wasn’t necessary. Example: John said that he’ll be home later and that you should just start on your project alone. How many times did “that” need to appear? None. After you write something, do a search for thats and nuke them unless they’re absolutely necessary.
Irregardless is NOT the right word
The word you’re looking for is “regardless.” The other isn’t a real word and is only included in dictionaries so it can be noted as incorrect. Don’t use it. Please. We’re all begging you. Perhaps you don’t realize how stupid it makes you sound, but we all do. Stop.
No double-space after periods (this is not 1965)
You don’t need to use a double-space after a period. We are no longer using fixed-width fonts on typewriters and nearly all writing and style guides (MLA, The Chicago Manual of Style, et cetera) suggest using only one space. It has been argued double-space is more accessible, but if you’re writing in 11px Verdana, double-space isn’t doing anything to help anyone and it makes you look like an old school teacher.
Effect versus Affect
Simply put, “affect” means to influence or act on, “effect” means something brought on by a cause or agent. There are a few other subtleties, but if you stick to the idea of affect being a verb and effect usually being a noun, you should be fine. Examples: “John’s drinking has no effect on his behavior,” and, “Smoking crack while pregnant can affect the baby.”
Lose versus Loose
This is a simple one. Lose your keys, pull a loose tooth. Two Os means not firmly in place or relaxed. One O and something is missing or you’re the worse football team.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of common issues, but I notice these in particular on a daily basis so they’re a good place to start.