Errors We All Make

In any career field, there are notable greats. In editing, one of the better-known copyeditors is Bill Walsh, who edits for the Washington Post and has also written a few funny yet helpful books about language, writing, and editing. The man knows his stuff, and he even takes time to answer questions from the public when they struggle with writing scenarios or need a second pair of eyes (professional in his case) to look over tricky sentences. He recently came up with a list of twenty common errors that experienced and inexperienced writers routinely make:

One instance that probably doesn’t get a lot of thought (but should) is saying something that includes the words “one of those,” which is the first item on Bill’s list. Look at this example and see if you can identify the correct verb: “Nikki is one of those people who drive/drives too fast.” I bet most people would choose “drives” because it links with “Nikki,” which is who we’re talking about, right? Nikki drives fast. That makes sense, after all. Technically, though, “drive” is the correct choice. The sentence is actually saying that Nikki is a member of a group of people who drive too fast (people drive). Bill reworded his example to make more sense, and it applies to mine as well. You could say “You know those people who drive too fast? Nikki is one of them.” I don’t care for the way the original version sounds, using the correct “drive,” so I’m likely to reword sentences like that to avoid the “one of those” phrase all together. This is definitely a common problem.

One thing I totally disagree with Bill about is number nineteen on his list: “The serial comma is done” (as in dead). (The serial comma is the comma before “and” in a series: “red, white, and blue” instead of “red, white and blue.”) Here’s why he considers it dead: He edits for a newspaper, and newspaper workers use the Associated Press Stylebook as their guide. Most other types of publications in America refer to books like the Chicago Manual of Style (my favorite), and the serial comma is absolutely called for. I’m surprised Bill actually made such a blanket statement when I know he’s aware that other style/reference books use the serial comma. My strong preference is for the serial comma, but I still tell people it’s a style choice and that consistency is important either way. When I edit books, I always ensure the serial comma is applied since most (if not all) American publishing companies require it. Plus, using it prevents a lot of cases of confusion/ambiguity, which is crucial in writing.

Check out the rest of the list for yourself. Are there any items you have questions about or disagree with? Any shared pet peeves? Let me know!

Editor Amy

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