5 Easy Ways to Avoid Common Spelling and Grammatical Errors

by Ashley Watson on 26 December 2013 1 comment

It doesn't matter who you are or what you do for a living, writing is an integral part of everything we do. Think of how many times a day you have to write an email, or a letter, or write the content for a presentation. Even a simple thank you card should be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. As a writer and former teacher, I have used my experience to put together five quick and easy ways to avoid common spelling and grammatical mistakes. (See also: 20+ Reasons to Write a Letter)

1. Proofread Tomorrow and Find a Good Editor

Anyone can miss a typo or make grammatical errors under a strict deadline. But even if you aren't a professional writer typing quickly to meet a deadline, a second pair of eyes on your work is essential. You can't stare at the same document for hours at a time and then expect to find spelling errors or awkward wording on your own.

The reason for this is that we read our own work with a certain expectation about what we meant to write, so it's very easy to miss a word or a word that isn't spelled correctly. Always step away from whatever you are working on for at least a few hours (24 hours is ideal) so that you can see it with a fresh pair of eyes. Read it several times, but not so many that you start to over think it (I am guilty of this one). Once you make your own revisions, find an editor.

You don't have to hire an editor, unless you are writing a book. However, if you are writing something important, such as a cover letter for a job, find a savvy friend or family member who can read it for grammatical errors and help you organize your ideas. Never deliver a cover letter, resume, or any important document without having someone else look at it first. (See also: How to Improve Your Resume)

2. Don't Rely on Spellcheck

Relying solely on a spelling and grammar checking program is one of the most common mistakes made by people writing at any level. The grammar check is particularly tricky, because it isn't always 100% correct. For instance, what if you spell "there" when you really meant "their," or "wood" instead of "would"? While some grammar checking programs will catch these errors, most of them are not as accurate as a human editor.

I do use it as a tool to help me edit more quickly, but I don't rely on it for all my edits. I also don't accept any changes that appear questionable to me or that I know are wrong. But I have an English degree, and I taught Writing Composition to college students. What if you don't know all the rules? That's why I've included tip number three.

3. Keep a Reliable Resource on Hand

Whether you are using an online tool, or a hard copy of a writing manual, such as Diana Hacker's Rules for Writers, you need to have some type of resource to help you check your grammar and spelling. These are also excellent tools for answering any grammatical questions you may have.

If you are looking for an answer fast, I highly recommend Grammar Girl's website. No, that isn't Phoebe from "Friends." She's actually a knowledgeable writer with a comprehensive website. I can almost guarantee that she will have an answer for any grammatical question you may have.

In addition to Hacker's "Rules for Writers," which was the handbook I assigned when I taught composition, I also recommend Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale and Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson (this book is highly entertaining, too).

Lastly on this subject, get a good dictionary. I'm an American Heritage kind of gal, but no matter which one you choose, don't forget to use it! This helps you remember how to spell words instead of just relying on spellcheck or Googling a word when you don't know how to spell it.

4. Make a List of Your Frequent Mistakes

Keep a list of mistakes that you know you make consistently. I have a friend who can never remember to put the apostrophe in "it's" when it is appropriate, even though she knows the difference between "it's" and "its." I suggested that she keep a list of words that give her trouble saved in a Word document on her desktop, and then she can quickly refer to it whenever she's writing. (See also: How to Learn From Your Mistakes)

5. Use Easy-to-Remember Shortcuts

One of my coworkers can never remember when to use "affect" or "effect." Affect is always used as a verb, as in "Your lateness affects everyone at the office." Effect is a noun, as in "There are no known adverse side effects to this drug." One easy way to remember this is to think of a word or phrase that includes the troublesome word. (See also: How to Improve Your Memory)

I told my coworker to always think of "greenhouse effect," because you can see that it is a noun. Also, most people know how to spell it because it is in the news and in print all the time. For any words or rules you have trouble remembering, find a similar way to trick your brain into remembering it forever.

What are some of the ways that you avoid spelling and grammar errors in your writing. Please share your tips with us in the comments below.

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Ed

Actually, affect is used as a noun: she had a flat affect; and effect can be used as a verb: the new ordinance effected a revolt by city workers.