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Top Three Writing Errors of 2014

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 . . . . 

Thanks, Lynn. 

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:

Hi Jeff,

Hello Maureen,

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. 

Start your new year off with
new skills in punctuation. 

Take Punctuation for 

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! 

Syntax Training 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

14 comments on “Top Three Writing Errors of 2014”

  • In the first paragraph, I was wondering if there was any issue with the use of “were” instead of “are”. Thoughts?
    “The content and your approach were extremely helpful.”

    P.S. Lynn, you are my grammar hero! All the best to you in 2015.

  • Were, rather than was, if you’re using past tense, I believe.
    Lynn, I think you are fighting an uphill battle in our (formerly) great nation. English was my worst subject in school; however, I discovered that almost all of my co-workers were even worser(sic) than I was in that regard. LOL
    I would appreciate any corrections in the above blurb.

    Al from Brooklyn

  • Hi Al,

    I don’t yet understand your first comment about “were” rather than “was.” “Were” would be used for plural subjects, but I am not sure what you are referring to.

    I appreciate your “blurb.” No corrections to make!


  • Hi Lynn,

    I was referring to “content” and “approach” in your example and to the comments which were made by Martha regarding the same.
    I enjoy your very informative posts and I hope you have a blessed new year.


  • Hi Lisa,

    I love your curiosity! My grammar and spelling checker suggested changing “me” to “I” in this sentence:

    –Please let Reggie and me know when you leave.

    That’s like telling tourists to turn left when they were going the correct way on their own.


  • Dear Lynn,

    Kindly advise on your below mentioned comment:

    ‘Thanks for your clarification, Al.’

    I understand that sometime back I read that the word only ‘thanks’ should be avoided and rather it should be addressed as ‘thank you’, as thanks is not existed.

    Kindly advise your feedback.


  • Thanks for responding, Lynn! That reminds me of a habit of my fourth grade teacher. If one of us students ever said something like “Me and my friend” she would interrupt us and say, “What?” as if she hadn’t heard us. Her intention was to get us to correct our grammar before continuing, but it did not instill in us a correct understanding of the difference between a subject and direct object- it just made us avoid ever saying “My friend and me”!

  • Hello Purshotam,

    “Thanks” is informal. It is fine to use it with friends and in informal messages. If you were writing to a professor or a potential employer, you would probably choose “Thank you.”


  • Lynn,

    Could “however” have been used in this form;

    I always appreciate your practical tips. However, I did not understand one of the points in a recent blog post.

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