7 Common Writing Mistakes That People Think Are Right, But They’re Actually Wrong

As a writer and editor for an Internet marketing agency, I work with clients in industries that range from solar wall tubes to small business credit card processing. In the morning I could be writing a blog post about truck tracking devices, and by afternoon I’ll be researching green packaging trends. One thing this diverse set of clients has in common is that they rely on our expertise to provide content that speaks to their audience and brings in leads.

Yet when the content goes back to them during the review process, many clients can’t help but mark up the page with grammar and style edits that they think are corrections, but are actually just plain incorrect.

It’s not just clients, either. Many people have this set of writing, grammar and punctuation rules that they learned who knows where – maybe Mrs. Kristakis pounded serial commas into their heads for the entirety of sixth grade – and they take these rules as the truth, forever and ever. That’s why it’s important for professional writers and editors to follow a specific stylebook with (updated!) guidelines that can back them up when they say, “Well, actually … you’re wrong.” I follow the AP Stylebook. Below are seven common writing mistakes, according to the AP Stylebook, that people make all the time.


1. Using postal codes instead of the correct state abbreviations. Look, I hate state abbreviations. I think they are clunky, pointless and confusing. I hope AP Stylebook gets rid of them altogether. Until then, they are the correct way to indicate the state in which a city resides.

For example: Straight North is located in Oak Brook, Ill. If I sent that to a client, he’d probably change that last part to Oak Brook, IL, because that’s what he’s used to writing and seeing. However, IL is the postal code – to be used only with full addresses, including the ZIP code. As in, on mail. (Here’s where it gets tricky: Large cities, such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Miami, etc., are obvious enough to stand alone in text, without the state abbreviation.)

2. Capitalizing job titles. What is it about that capital letter that makes people feel so important? Being the Editor looks so much more impressive than being the editor. But it’s incorrect. Formal titles that indicate authority are only capitalized when used immediately before the person’s name: President Barack Obama, Chief Operating Officer John Doe, Marketing Director Sally Smith. BUT: Barack Obama is the president. John Doe is the chief operating officer. Sally Smith is the marketing director.

3. Two spaces after a period. I learned this “rule” in school, from teachers who learned to type on typewriters. At my first real job writing and editing for a website, my manager went on a rant about the double space after a period. I never did it again. From the AP Stylebook: Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence. The end.

4. Lowercasing the Web. It’s the Web, not the web. It’s Web page, not web page. It’s website, not Web site. Yeah, I never said the rules in AP Stylebook make sense all the time.

5. Italicizing composition titles. Here’s another AP mistake that I learned in school and as an intern at a publishing company that followed the Chicago Manual of Style. Composition titles, such as book titles, TV shows, poems and songs, should actually be used with quotation marks, not italics. I like this rule, especially for Web writing, as it eliminates the need to mess with formatting or HTML.  

6. Using the Oxford comma. Ah, the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) – the comma before the conjunction in a series, and the cause for much debate among word nerds. There’s even a song about it! Personally, I like the Oxford comma. It’s clear, it’s simple and it makes sense to me. But in the world of AP Stylebook, it’s only used for sentences with a complex series, or if one of the phrases in the series already includes “and.”

For example:

My favorite foods include burgers, fried chicken and bacon.

My favorite meals include burgers and fries, fried chicken and coleslaw, and bacon and eggs.

Commas can get pretty confusing, though, and can completely change a sentence’s meaning when used incorrectly. So when it comes to the Oxford comma, I’ll also use it if it makes the sentence more comprehensible. We all have to make exceptions sometimes.

7. Putting a comma before Inc. in a company name. Your Company Inc. look so much better than Your Company, Inc., am I right? And it’s correct, to boot. I love when that happens.    

I’ll be the first to admit that there are too many rules to remember them all, and to know when to use which. So writers, keep your stylebooks handy at all times. And clients, trust your writers. 


Jacqui MacKenzie is a writer for Straight North, an Internet marketing agency based in Chicago. Check out the Straight North Blog, or follow @StraightNorth on Twitter!       


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