When you are writing, the old adage "there's never time to do it right but there's always time to do it over" does NOT apply. It's important to put your words down while they are still fresh in your mind. Spelling, grammar and punctuation can take a back seat because there IS time to do it over. (Well, you must make time!)
However, once you've completed your task of expressing your ideas, then you can start from the beginning to ensure that it makes sense. However, I recommend waiting several weeks before you begin to check your work. When it's still fresh in your mind, you'll miss errors. It's also useful to change the typeface and/or point size (line length, if possible) as this modification will make it more likely that you see formatting errors.
As you'll probably want your work to appeal to an International audience, you should remove (or explain) any colloquial terms, any references to trade names, product names, company names, movies, TV shows (and TV characters), sports terms and personalities or concepts that make no sense outside of your own country. For example, Americans use the term "sophomore" every day but this word will have British readers reaching for the dictionary! In British English "pavement" always means the side of the road where you walk (sidewalk). To avoid confusion, call it the road surface or simply road. Avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Words that cause most confusion are usually those which you use most often, such as names of kitchen utensils, soft drinks, food, tools, household items and car parts.
There are also words which are simply never used in other countries. For example, an American might say "oftentimes" whereas a Brit will only ever say "often". A Brit might say "whilst" but an American will only ever say "while". The phrase "different from" is accepted Internationally, while "different to" and "different than" are less acceptable and best avoided. In America a payment "check" is a "cheque" in the UK; a receipt "check" is "the bill". "Check the box [x]" would be "tick the box [x]" in the UK.
Colloquial words and expressions are usually not recognised internationally. In America "fanny" ("backside" in the UK) is common but considered extremely rude in the UK (and has a different meaning). Likewise "faggot", "rubber", "pissed" and many other words can be innocent in one location but offensive in another. (In the UK "pissed" means inebriated.)
Consult the various web sites that list American-English "translations".
Trite expressions (over-used or old-fashioned)
Avoid "trite" or "hackneyed" expressions such as "reach out to" when a single word ("contact", in this example) makes perfect sense. Avoid the frequent use of "get", "got" and "gotten" where another word can be used (for example "received", "acquired", "found" or "located" to make the writing more interesting.)
A special favourite: "no way, shape or form." Please AVOID!
"But lone behold, there it was!" Or "Low and behold". The phrase is actually "lo and behold". Using a trite phrase is bad enough but getting it so horribly wrong marks you as uneducated.
"That being said" can be replaced with "However".
"In this day and age" can be replaced with "nowadays".
"All things being equal" can be replaced with "usually".
"For sure" can be replaced with "certainly" or "it's true that" and other words.
There is literally no way to justify the continual use of this word. Please avoid it unless it is essential to the meaning.
Writers often use the same word more than once in a sentence. Such repetition can make the writing look childish and make reading tedious. In particular, try to avoid repeating "that"; it's often possible to alternate it with "which".
However, please don't take this as licence to omit "that" when it's needed!
For example: "All these three-hour runs promote is an increased appetite."
Did you stall at "is"? Most people are not expecting it. It's better to include the missing word to make understanding easier:
"All that these three-hour runs promote is an increased appetite."
Don't use "that" when referring to people. Use "who":-
"Oranges are best eaten only by those
that who are not already obese."
"I have a neighbour
that who grows bananas."
If I come across more examples, I'll expand this list.
Use of the wrong word:-
Accept and except.
Access and excess.
Accede and exceed.
Accept and except. Accepting and excepting.
Alot and a lot. (There is no such word as "alot".)
Alternate and alternative.
All together and altogether.
All right (not "alright").
Amount and number - (Use number for people, eggs, discrete items. Use amount for flour, gravel, sand, custard, etc.)
Anytime (= whenever) and at any time.
Anymore (= again) and any more.
Any way and anyway.
A part (of) and apart (from)
Are and our. (Are is from the verb "to be", whereas "our" is a possessive pronoun.)
Bachelor and Batchelor. (Bachelor is an unmarried man. Batchelor is a company name.)
Back up (verb) and backup (noun).
Bated breath and baited hook.
Border and boarder.
Break down and breakdown.
Build up and buildup
By and buy.
Cant and can't.
Checkout and to check out. (Check out the offers at the supermarket checkout.)
Choose and chose.
Compare with and compare to (different meanings). Use "to" when pointing out a similarity between things that are fundamentally different. In other words, you might compare New York to a hive of bees (it clearly isn't a hive of bees). Otherwise, use "with".
Comprised of x. The verb "to comprise" means "to consist of" or "to be composed of". The genitive sense is inherent so to follow "comprise" or "comprised" or "comprising" with "of" makes no logical sense.
Correspond with and correspond to (different meanings).
Deprecated (frowned upon) and depreciated (gone down in value).
Different than, that, to [x] instead of different from.
Downright (very) and darn right (correct).
Draw back (pull back) and drawback (disadvantage).
Dual (twin) and duel (swordfight).
Either and each ("either" is giving a choice - one or the other but not both).
Ensue and ensure.
Every day (each day) and everyday (commonplace, usual).
Every one (each thing) and everyone (all persons).
Feral (wild animal) and ferrule (a cap or tube).
Imminent (expected immediately) and immanent (look it up!).
Insure, ensure and assure.
Intact (complete) and in tact.
It's and its (and sometimes even its' - ridiculous!).
Lets (allows) and let's (let us).
Like and "as if"/"as though".
Lockdown (noun) and to lock down (verb).
Loose (not tight) and lose (can't find/can't win).
Maybe (perhaps) and may be (might be).
Meltdown (noun) and to melt down (verb).
Mute (no sound) and moot (arguable).
My wife and I, and my wife and me; he and I; him and me. (Subject and object confusion).
Oneself and one's self.
Onto and on to.
Overtime (extra time) and over time (for a duration).
Phenomenon (singular) and phenomena (plural).
Pouring and poring, pour and pore.
Principle and principal.
Regardless and irrespective have similar meanings. There is no such word as irregardless.
Rollout (noun) and roll out (verb).
Rundown (noun) and run-down (adjective).
Setup (noun) and set up (verb).
Shutdown (noun) and shut down (verb).
Something and some thing (subtle difference).
Surmise (suppose something is true) and summarize (sum up).
There, their, they're.
Than and then.
That and than.
That and who/whom. (Who is always used when referring to a person or persons - not "that" - even if MS Word suggests that it should!)
E.g. "The person
that who spoke to me." "The person that whom I spoke to." (or to whom I spoke.)
Thin and narrow: the paper is thin; the corridor is narrow.
To lay and to lie. (Look them up.)
To try and [x] instead of try to.
To and too - I despair that people can't see the difference! Too can mean "also"; it can mean "overly".
Weary (tired) and wary (cautious/skeptical).
Workout (noun) and work out (verb). "I plan to work out with a workout plan".
Wreak and wreck: "If you wreck the ship it will wreak havock with the navy."
Phrases that might cause the reader to stall.
There are a lot of... there are a number of... there are a box of
Although it's generally deemed as acceptable to mix a plural verb with a singular object, such a phrase seems wrong to some readers and is best avoided. Instead, you could write "there's a lot of..." or "there are lots of..."
Avoid the dreaded "but which" and "and which". In most cases, you can omit "which" without altering the meaning and the omission improves the flow of the sentence. Example: I have a cat which meaows and
which cries at night.
More examples to be added as I come across them...
The phrase "for safety's sake"... is incorrect, as is "for heaven's sake" and any expression when "sake" follows a genitive. You should always omit the inflection and write, for example, "for safety sake". For God sake get it right. (The phrase that most people manage to write correctly, by accident, is "for goodness sake".)
Lazy writing - use of words which are incorrect but accepted in general conversation:-
"... people that do this.." should be "...people who..." because they are people, not things.
"... a lot less skinny people..." should be "... a lot fewer skinny people..." because the word fewer should always be used where the people (or things) can be counted - unlike grains of sand. Never write "there was a large amount of people" because the connotations are horrendous! (Were they ground up very finely?)
Omitting "to" as, for example "helps [to] spread the word". "Helped [to] create a new system."
Omitting the verb - especially "to be" as, for example, "It needs [to be] removed."
Commonly used but incorrect phrases
"The reason is ... because ..." (Should be "The reason is ... that ...)
Similarly: "The problem is that..." (not because).
"I could (not) care less."
Beginning a sentence with a conjunction.
As a general guide, don't begin a sentence with a conjunction. A sentence should be able to stand alone and still convey full meaning. If you begin a sentence with (for example) "And.." then, clearly, you are relying on a preceding sentence for context. The sentence beginning with "And" can not stand alone. But there are exceptions (and this is one). Think VERY carefully before beginning a sentence with "Meaning" because it's unlike to result in a true standalone sentence. Better to replace it with "Consequently", "However" or even "So". Don't beging a sentence with "Which" unless it's a question.
"It's OK to be lax with punctuation in reported speech."
No it isn't. Speech is exactly that - audible words without written punctuation but with tonal inflection. It's up to you, the reporter, to punctuate it correctly in order to convey the exact meaning and nuances. This is often a most difficult task because speech may be ungrammatical and colloquial, with words missing or mispronounced. Sometimes it's necessary to add [missing] words like this in order to convey the implied meaning. By the way, speech is often hesitant with silent gaps. In general ... it's not necessary ... to indicate ... the silences ... like this unless it really clarifies the meaning. Punctuate normally, without introducing rows of dots unnecessarily.
"Unlike humans, experts do not believe the disease in great apes is linked to poor diet and lifestyle."
If you can't see what's wrong with this sentence, you definitely need my help! Be careful how you construct sentences. (OK, for the linguistically challenged: the obvious problem with this sentence is that it implies that experts are not human.)
Today I received an email from an American in which he wrote "... it want's ...)
There is no logical reason to stick an apostrophe into a verb except that ignorant people notice that the apostrophe frequently precedes an "s" - so that becomes their rule; albeit applied somewhat randomly!
Likewise, it makes no logical sense to write lot's with an apostrophe or words intended to be plural, such as oranges, unless you mean "belonging to an orange" as in "the orange's juice".
Language changes through use (or misuse).
Many Americans write "alternate" instead of "alternative" and I see this mutated meaning being copied, increasingly, by English writers. Americans use the expression "I reached out to" in place of "I contacted", in the same way, I suppose, that they use "bathroom" instead of "toilet" - because they think it sounds less vulgar. Example of the misuse of "alternate:":
"Fit the facts to alternate conclusions."
Can you see that this instruction is ambiguous? Using the accepted meaning of "to alternate", this sentence translates as "Fit the facts to switch conclusions back and forth". However, it might also mean "Fit the facts to alternative conclusions." This problem of ambiguity is solved easily by using "alternative" when that's what you mean and by NOT using "alternate" when you mean "alternative".
There are several reasons why language usage becomes modified (and accepted). The principal reason, in my opinion, is ignorance and this is actually a policy decision. Governments prefer to educate only the elite because dumb people are easier to control. This philosophy is reinforced by spreading the idea that it's good to be ignorant and bad to correct people's mistakes. I have learned, the hard way, that it does me no favours to correct people's mistakes for free because it's seen as not "politically correct". You should not "embarrass people" by pointing out their mistakes. So ignorance breeds ignorance.
This "political correctness" is prevalent both in the USA and in England. The "thou shalt not spank" regulation in schools has metamorphosed into "thou shalt not correct otherwise you breach the pupil's human rights". (I would hate to be a teacher, nowadays.)*
Anyway, you are left with the choice of deciding whether to go by the established rules or to go by "common usage".
*This article reinforces the point:
(Correct use of commas would fill a book so this is merely a brief comment.)
In general, commas should demarcate the parenthetical phrase. In other words, the phrase that could equally be put in parentheses without changing the meaning AND could be removed completely, while still leaving a sentence that makes sense.
"Dolores dropped Rosie back at the shelter for a few days and (since the sun was shining) Milo put her in the field with some of the other dogs."
"Dolores dropped Rosie back at the shelter for a few days and, since the sun was shining, Milo put her in the field with some of the other dogs."
I've located the following example for you:-
4. Free modifier: A free modifier is an unspecialized interruption of additional information: "I stood up and, brushing off my pants, continued along my way."
I found it here:-
Having said that, I see a lot of books in which this (to me) logical approach is ignored. I guess they don't use editors or else the editors think that the comma *always* goes *before* the word "and". There are, of course, sentences where the comma must go before the "and" because that word is actually part of the parenthetical phrase. For example:-
The dog, and even the rabbit, made a loud noise when approached.
(Mind you, I'd probably use n-dashes for emphasis instead of commas because rabbits don't usually make a loud noise!)
The dog--and even the rabbit--made a loud noise when approached.
Many people seem to rest on the full-stop key while thinking................... However, there's no reason to indicate pause for thought unless you are directing a stage production. So don't use multiple dots for no good reason.
Use of numbers in Sentences
Use of single-digit numbers in a sentence is deprecated, as it doesn't improve ease of reading.
For example: "Running for 2 hours a day will improve your health."
Even worse: "Running for 2hrs a day will improve your health."
Write it longhand - "two hours" to make your reader more comfortable. It's not a text message!
Spaces after a sentence
In the days of typewriters and monospaced typefaces (such as "Courier") we were taught to hit the spacebar twice after each sentence. Unfortunately, many people still carry on this practice, which is totally wrong for a Word Processor document. (Some software will correct it automatically but most won't.)
Having two spaces between sentences can screw up justification and line-wrap.
Extra spaces also increase the file size. A few hundred extra space characters in a document could mean that (for example) Amazon Kindle will penalise you by charging you extra for each download. You could lose a penny per sale.
So, it's a good idea, after you've completed your document, to run a "search and replace" to replace all instances of two spaces with a single space.
In addition, check the end of each paragraph to ensure that you haven't left any unnecessary spaces there.
Think carefully about the placement of the word "only".
He thinks only about me. (And about nobody else.)
He only thinks about me. (But never visits, writes or phones!)
Mixing Singular and Plural
Example: "There are a number of people who write this".
You can see the obvious conflict. You would not write "there are a box". You could probably get away with "There's a number of people..." but my advice would be to avoid the construction altogether.
Example: "There are several people..." or "There are some people..." or, simply, "There are people..."
Redundant Phrase Usage
In some areas it's common to insert unnecessary phrases such as "went ahead and", "go ahead and", "gone ahead and". Such usage may be irritating to some readers so, if the sentence makes sense without the insertion, it's advisable to omit it. Change "I went ahead and did it" to "I did it" unless the "went ahead" implies a complete change in expectations, such as: "Although my friends warned me not to, I went ahead and did it anyway". (Even here, the phrase really adds nothing to the meaning.)
Also consider omitting phrases such as "a heck of" as in "I see a heck of a lot of rabbits each day". The phrase is redundant and colloquial and it's better to omit it, thus: "I see a lot of rabbits each day".
Local Phrase Usage
Avoid using local metaphors, which your international reader won't understand. (Yes, he/she can look it up but are you trying to tell a story, fluently, or educate? Do you really want to stall your reader?) Example:
"...like a pack of hooling rubes."
"They had quite clever of an infrastructure" is colloquial and awkward. Replace it with "They had quite a clever infrastructure".
Incorrect Verb Conjugation
"I sunk down in my chair" ("I sank" is correct, or "I have sunk".)
"I have went" ("I went" or "I have gone".)
Just two typical examples. There are many more, too numerous to list. I suggest that you consult verb conjugation tables if you are not confident that your usage is correct.