Common writing mistakes to avoid

A list of tips to approach writing with the right mindset.

As I grew in my professional writing journey, I realized some writing mistakes that I’ve been making for years. And they seem to be common among the many aspiring writers I’ve come across. So I’m sharing simple not-to-do tips here along with explanations and what to do instead.

Don't add any images to your articles

When you write an article, don’t add any images to your first draft. In fact, don’t add any images until the final draft is done and ready to be published.

Your article is a good article if its words explain themselves. Images do add value, of course, but they aren’t a replacement of the content itself.

Thanks to Mukunth, the Editor of The Wire Science, for teaching me this.

Avoid using brackets

Many writers tend to use brackets to provide additional information (say if they want to make a finer point). You should avoid this as it disturbs the reading flow. If you really can’t help bracketing something, use commas instead. Words sitting between two commas, like so, provide smoother entry and exit points.

More importantly perhaps, if you find yourself putting things in brackets often, maybe that information belongs outside the brackets.

Avoid long sentences

Sometimes less really is more.

New writers tend to put out long sentences, often longer than is necessary. This, I believe, is a side effect of speaking. When talking to someone, we don’t realize just how many sentences sprawl out our mouths in succession, and how swiftly a listener processes them. Speech processing is natural to us, reading isn’t.

When you read, you process every single word while simultaneously trying to stay in the flow. A short sentence can be a good mental break, especially when the reader least expects it. This is true not just for writing articles or books but also for everyday communications like email, chats, posting on socials, and more.

An occasional short sentence can carry a tremendous punch. It stays in the reader’s ear.

– William Zinsser, in his iconic book On Writing Well

Be afraid to write longer sentences, not shorter ones. Reverse the equation.

Avoid the exclamation mark

It's the most common way to kill the reader's enthusiasm!

It took me a while to understand the purpose of the exclamation mark, or rather what its purpose isn’t.

As a new writer, I would use it without as much as a second thought. I was so excited all the time from the cool science facts I learnt that I couldn’t help but convey that via exclamation points. I see many new writers do this as well, whether for conveying excitement, shock, or making a joke. But that doesn’t help the reader.

The reader should be surprised by what you convey, not be told to feel so at the end of the sentence. If they already exclaimed reading your words, the exclamation mark is redundant. If they didn’t, it’s redundant still. By using exclamation marks just because you’re excited, you rob the reader of finding the sentences interesting on their own.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use exclamation marks at all! It’s apt to convey an unexpected turn of events in the flow of information. But not when attaching it to the information itself.

It’s the difference between “Jupiter is huge!” vs. “Jupiter is so big it can fit 1,300 Earths inside it.”

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