Common writing mistakes and how to avoid them on your website

The little-known em dash

Most people aren’t aware of the different uses between the three different dash types: the dash, the en dash, and the em dash. In fact, most bloggers and copywriters don’t use them correctly.
Here’s the summary:
  1. Dash. Use the regular dash to hyphenate words (e.g. “rock-hard cookies”)
  2. En dash. This dash should mark a range (e.g. “10–21” or “August 1–14”
  3. Em dash. Em dashes can be used to set off information in a sentence. This dash can be used in place of commas, parentheses, colons, and semicolons.
Bonus tip: An em dash is usually surrounded by spaces in article and website writing — not in novel writing.
Second bonus tip: don’t forget to hyphenate two or more words when they’re positioned before a noun. These hyphenated words form a single idea, such as “decoratively-colored box.”

Formatting your bulleted list

One detail that’s often overlooked is the punctuation within your bulleted lists. For example,
  • Do you end each bullet with a period?
  • Do you use a colon or a dash to separate a point? For example, “• Grammar tips: for the average Joe.”
  • Think about how you introduce the bulleted list
Let’s keep this simple. First off, many top companies don’t end bullets with a period unless there’s more than one sentence after the bullet. For example, compare my second bullet to my third — both are correct.
As for colons versus dashes, pick one form of punctuation and stick to it. Use periods if you want — as I do at the start and end of this document. Make your punctuation as consistent as possible.

Introducing a bulleted list

If the bullet continues the prior sentence, don’t add a colon. An example would be
This bullet, which continues the sentence above
However, here’s another example:
This bullet doesn’t continue the sentence, so I used a colon before the list

To contract or not to contract?

That is the question.
Most people don’t consider how important it is to be consistent with your contractions or lack thereof. If you have contractions, use contractions. If you don’t want them, don’t use them.
Don’t use “don’t” in one sentence and “do not” in another. Don’t use “can’t” on one page and “cannot” on another.

Capitalizing your titles

Whether you capitalize your titles is entirely up to you — lowercase titles are a growing trend, like the titles in this article. However, be sure to stay consistent. Also, if you do capitalize your title, be sure to capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
When in doubt, use an online title capitalization tool.

Commas in your writing

When using commas to set off nonrestrictive clauses, make sure the sentence outside of the commas works as a whole.
For example: This sentence should make sense, despite being split, as a whole.
Check: This sentence should make sense, despite being split, as a whole.

The Oxford comma

The Oxford comma is the final comma when listing things, usually before “and” or “or.” For example, this article covers grammar, punctuation uses, and other tips.
The Oxford comma isn’t usually used in marketing materials like websites or pamphlets. So, the above sentence would read as: “This article covers grammar, punctuation uses and other tips.”
However, if you’re writing a blog, I recommend using the Oxford comma for clarity.

Writing numbers

In technical writing, all numbers under 10 should be written out. In copywriting, it’s really up to the writer.
Just be consistent. You can also choose to write all your numbers out — except for pricing — or use numerals.

Lesser-known grammar tips

I versus me

Don’t skip this tip — most people get it wrong!
For a simple rule of thumb: when deciding if you should use “I” or “me,” remove the second person.
“The PDF has something to teach the class and me.”
“The PDF has something to teach me.”
The first sentence sounds weird, right? That’s because we’ve been trained to think using “I” sounds professional, yet is actually only correct half the time.

Starting sentences with “And”

As a ground rule, avoid starting sentences with “and.” There’s some controversy to this rule, but here’s my thought.
“Starting a sentence with “but” is much like starting one with “however” — perfectly acceptable. However, “and” is more commonly used to join parts of a sentence and, therefore, seems clipped and unfinished in professional writing when it’s the first word of a sentence.

“Which” versus “that”

These two words aren’t as interchangeable as people think.
“Which” is used to introduce a non-defining clause whereas “that” is used to introduce a defining clause.
Simply put: add a comma before “which” but not before “that” because “which” introduces a side thought.
Now you have the knowledge, which will help you in your own writing. Also, now you have the knowledge that will help you in your own writing.

Extra editing tips

There are two things you should do before publishing any page or document:
  • Read it out loud. People highly underestimate the value of reading their work out loud. Reading aloud can help you target sentences or sections that don’t flow or sticky language that isn’t used in everyday life. The practice can also help you catch missing words and other mistakes.
Another trick is to have your computer read your work back to you. Have a look online to figure out how to trigger your computer to read aloud.
  • Grammarly is free. The first tier of Grammarly is 100% free — use it! No matter how confident you are in your writing, we often skip or miss details when staring at a screen. Grammarly can provide an extra check-over before your final readthrough.
If you enjoyed these tips, download the FREE PDF!

Melanie Leon


Melanie Leon Media