In my work as a business writing teacher, I read samples of writing from managers and employees at all levels around the country and the globe. In 2014 I repeatedly saw three errors. Two of them are punctuation mistakes; one falls into the grammar pot.
Can you find the top three errors in this fictionalized message? Each of the top errors appears twice, so look for six errors.
Lynn thank you for permitting us to reprint your recent business writing article in our newsletter. The content and your approach is extremely helpful.
I always appreciate your practical tips, however, I did not understand one of the points in a recent blog post. Why is "me" correct in the sentence "Please let Reggie and me know when you leave"? I always thought "I" was the proper pronoun, however, you indicated that "me" is correct.
Thanks Lynn. Your advice and feedback is much appreciated.
Did you find six errors?
Error 1: The most common error of 2014 appears at the beginning of the first and last paragraphs in the sample above. When the writer used my name in a sentence, directly addressing me, a comma should have set off my name:
Lynn, thank you for permitting us . . . .
If my name appeared in the middle of the sentence, two commas would set it off:
Thanks, Lynn, for granting permission.
People are forgetting this comma because we have dropped it in email greetings:
Nevertheless, the "direct address comma" still belongs in sentences to indicate that we are talking to the reader, not about him or her.
Error 2: Mistakes with however between sentences keep popping up, and writers should know better. When the word however connects two sentences (independent clauses), a semicolon–not a comma–must come before however:
I always appreciate your practical tips; however, I did not understand one of the points in a recent blog post.
I always thought "I" was the proper pronoun; however, you indicated that "me" is correct.
However is not like and or but. Those conjunctions can connect sentences with just a comma. But however is an adverb like nevertheless and nonetheless; it needs a semicolon before it when it connects two sentences.
Error 3: Mistakes in subject-verb agreement are everywhere these days. The sample passage contained these two:
The content and your approach is extremely helpful. (Is should be are.)
Your advice and feedback is much appreciated. (Again, is should be are.)
Writers know that plural subjects such as "advice and feedback" need a plural verb, but they are moving too fast to think about it.
Can you help eliminate these errors in 2015? Spread the word! Unfortunately, our grammar and spelling checkers won't help us. Mine found just two of the six mistakes, and it encouraged me to make an additional error.
Which errors most often blemished the pieces you read in 2014?
Happy new year!