Whenever I have surveyed my students in the Literature course as to why they have chosen the course, the leading answer is ‘to improve my writing.’  After that comes ‘because I love reading.’ So over the next months I am going to try to boil down some common problems that undermine your delivery in writing (and sometimes speaking) of what you want to say.  Some of these will be very basic and repeated errors that will make your current academic and later professional writing look like you missed out on something somewhere along the line.

So every post will point out 4-5 common weaknesses, getting down in this first post to some truly basic things. These are what  examiners find you’ve somehow failed to pick up as you came through the years you’ve already spent in school.  The points will come from various sources and today’s offering is based on Patricia O’Connor’s  Woe is I.

  1.  There are two ways you can include yourself with someone else when speaking or writing.  You can be an actor:’Jack and I gave him the soccer ball’ or a receiver: ‘they gave it to Trevor and me.’ No, it’s not a good thing to make that common error: ‘to Trevor and I.’   Take out ‘Trevor’ and it’s clear you’d be saying ‘gave it to me.’  You will hear people make this mistake often, even the adults in your school.    You can tell how common it is since O’Connor uses that mistake as her title. And btw, ‘Jack and me gave him….’ doesn’t work either. Again use the ‘take out’ method: you probably have not said ‘Me gave him the soccer ball’ since you were about 3 years old.

2., 3, and 4:  Some really common ones that you should be able to kill off with just a little conscious effort:

  • its and it’s:   the only time you need that apostrophe (‘) is when it’s short for ‘it is.’  You need to break the habit of just not paying attention–you DO know the difference.   It Matters.
  • The same goes for your and you’re: the only time you need the apostrophe is when it’s short for ‘you are.’  I would guess you know this, so make yourself do it.  It Matters.
  • And finally who’s and whose.  This one seems a little harder, maybe, but it’s the same principle:  if there’s an ‘is’ involved, you want to use the first.  It–yes–Matters, which one you use.

So that’s an easy little set of things you can make yourself do if you want to be a winner in the art of communication.  Pay attention to these even when you text….you’ll get yourself into the habit.