When writing for technical audiences it is obviously important for the technology content to be correct. However, there is another element that also needs attention: grammar. Poor grammar is unlikely to score you many points when trying to get content placed with a magazine or website. This is because an editor is less likely to publish a piece in which he or she needs to invest considerable time correcting grammatical errors. It will also introduce a certain amount of wariness surrounding future submitted pieces.
Even if you are publishing your own content it is just as (if not more) important to get things right because you have no editorial safety net to protect you from falling flat on your face.
One way of minimising mistakes is to familiarise yourself with a few everyday banana skins that have been catching writers unawares for centuries. As a starting point, the list below offers 10 of the most common items that can lead to errors, together with examples of their correct use. You have been warned!
Your/you’re – if in doubt, replace the apostrophe with the missing letter to check if the sentence still makes sense.
Your next project will be huge
You’re going to need extra resources (contraction of ‘you are’)
Its/It’s – as above. Note that, unlike nouns, ‘it’ does not take a possessive mark.
Its potential is huge
It’s going to demand lots of time (contraction of ‘it is’)
There will be additional payments for production workers
They’re getting extra shifts ready to cope with demand (contraction of ‘they are’)
Their time will have to be used efficiently (group possessive)
The possessive apostrophe – its position depends on whether the word is singular or plural.
The owner’s position was clear (There is a single owner)
The owners’ position was clear (There are multiple owners)
Affect/effect. These are, respectively, verb and noun. ‘Effect’ can also be used as a verb but, in that case, has a different meaning.
It will affect the number of deliveries required (verb)
The effect on our logistics will be considerable (noun)
Compliment/complement. These are often confused. The former is an expression of praise; the latter relates to completing a group or entity.
We need to complement our team with a subcontractor
It’s a huge compliment to our management team
I’ve got to speak with our sales manager
I’ve got too many jobs to do
Lead/led. ‘Led’ is the past tense of ‘lead’; the common mistake is to use ‘lead’ as the past tense.
Apparently he wanted to lead the team
He’s always led them to believe otherwise
He walked in to the office yesterday
He went into business with someone else
- Finally, one that annoys editors the world over – the random use of capital letters, often to simply emphasise a word. Stick to the rules, capital letters at the start of sentences, for proper nouns such as the names of people and places, and for ‘I’. That’s all folks.
If you have any other examples to add, let us know, we would be glad to include them.